Light of the World

Booklet 21

In the Shadow of the Cross

"The chief priests and the teachers of the law . . . began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching" (Mark 11:18).

For more than a thousand years the Jews had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Their brightest hopes were centered in the appearance on earth of God's only Son. In songs and prophecy, in temple rite and household prayer, they had enshrined His name. Yet when He came, they did not want Him. They were offended because His life and teachings exposed their sins and threatened to abolish their system of rites and ceremonies. The rejection of Jesus by the leaders of Israel was the most tragic event in their long history as a nation.

God Himself had chosen the Jewish people to preserve among humanity the knowledge of His law and of the symbols and prophecies that pointed to the Savior. When God called Abraham, He said to him, "I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing. . . . And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2, 3). But when Christ, the Seed of Abraham and the Light of the world, appeared among them in person, they chose to walk in darkness.

The officials of Israel were united in their opposition to Christ and His work from the time that He first cleansed the temple of the money changers and priests until His final trial before Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate. In this booklet we will see how this opposition grew over the period of Christ's public ministry.

As we search the pages of the New Testament, we will see how Christ pleaded with His chosen people to accept the light from heaven. The merciful Savior left no stone unturned to discover ways and means by which He might persuade them to receive Him as their Lord.

Christ worked almost exclusively for the Jewish people, and when He sent out the disciples early in their ministry, He instructed them to work entirely for "the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10:6).

"These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: "The kingdom of heaven is near" ' " (Matthew 10:5-7).

The disciples did not minister to the non-Jewish world for some time. Later their labors were for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.

After His resurrection, Christ instructed His disciples to continue their labors for Israel and then to reach out to the very ends of the earth. Here are His words:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

At the Feast of Pentecost three thousand were converted in one day (see Acts 2:41. Soon the number of believers increased (see Acts 4:4), many priests joined the disciples (see Acts 6:7), and thousands of Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Awakened by the events of Christ's death and resurrection, a multitude of Hebrews saw in him the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies. This gathering of Jews, however, did not take place until after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord.

Even then the nation, as such, officially repudiated Jesus. The Beloved of heaven was to them "like a root out of dry ground." "He had no beauty or majesty" to attract them to Him, and they saw "nothing in his appearance" that caused them to desire Him (see Isaiah 53:2). "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (John 1:11).

We will now retrace the events in Israel's rejection of Christ, and as we do so, notice carefully that the repudiation of Jesus by an entire nation followed a gradual process, even as it does in the individual life. Either we are drawing closer to the Savior day by day, or we are wandering farther and farther from Him. Throughout Jesus' life, there were many evidences of His Messiahship, yet these were ignored by His own people. Here are some of the steps in His rejection by the Jewish nation:

1. The ignoring of the providences and unusual occurrences surrounding His birth—the visit of the angels to the shepherds, the appearance of the star in the east, the visit of the Magi to Jerusalem, Anna's remarkable prophecy in the temple, and Simeon's forecast of the Savior's work. All these were signs that should have awakened Israel, but the nation took no notice of these evidences of the appearance of the Son of God in their midst.

2. The disregard of the supernatural events at Jesus' baptism—the voice of the Father speaking from heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. There was also the public announcement by John that Jesus was "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). These were signs in abundance. But what response was heard in official
Jerusalem? None.

3. The discrediting of Christ's miracles which began at Cana in Galilee when He turned the water into wine. Here was abundant testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus, but His miracles were explained away on the basis of satanic influences. They accused Jesus of casting out devils by Beelzebub, the chief of the devils (see Mark 3:22-30).

It was enmity to the person and teaching of Jesus which led to the denial of his claims. . . . They [the Jewish leaders] regarded Jesus, as not only temporarily, but permanently, possessed by a demon, that is, as the constant vehicle of Satanic influence. And this demon was, according to them, none other than Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. Thus, in their view, it was really Satan who acted in and through him; and Jesus, instead of being recognized as the Son of God, was regarded as an incarnation of Satan; instead of being owned as the Messiah, was denounced and treated as the representative of the kingdom of darkness. All this, because the kingdom which he came to open, and which he preached, was precisely the opposite of what they regarded as the kingdom of God (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, volume 1, page 575).

Christ warned the Jewish leaders that this sin of crediting the work of God to the influence of Satan would lead them to commit the sin against the Holy Spirit, and this they ultimately did. However, many individual Jews at that time believed in Christ and received Him as their Lord and Savior, and there are those today who are doing the same. But how many there are in our own day who quiet their conscience—first, by first doubting the origin of divine influences and then by blaming the devil for their uneasiness of soul.

4. The malice and hatred of the priests and rabbis. This came into the open for the first time when Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple.

5. The open hostility of the elders caused by Christ's disregard of Jewish traditions, such as performing miracles of healing on the Sabbath day, thus violating rabbinical—but not divine—regulations for the observance of the Sabbath.

6. Violent opposition of His own neighbors and associates at Nazareth.

7. Definite plans to destroy Him. At Capernaum Christ came to grips with spies who had been appointed by the elders of Israel to find a cause for accusing Him. The opportunity came soon enough. There, upon the Sabbath, as He entered the synagogue, He saw a man with a withered hand. Notice what happened:

"Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.' Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus" (Mark 3:1-6; see also Matthew 12:10-12).

These misguided men, although they would pull an animal out of the ditch on the Sabbath day, considered Christ to be a sinner for healing a man with a withered hand on that day. This is the way all false religions—or the perversion of true religion—works. The proud human heart exalts itself or human theories of religion above God and the legitimate needs of humanity.

Notice carefully, now, how Christ tried to recover God's law from the Jewish traditions under which it had become obscured.

The spies who were sent to Capernaum to fasten on the Savior the charge of Sabbath-breaking had been left frustrated and confused. But the rabbis who had sent them did not give up so easily. Later, another deputation was sent to watch Christ's movements to find an accusation against Him. This time the spies complained that His disciples had violated the traditional precepts of the rabbis by not washing their hands before eating. This was such a vital requirement of Pharisaic duty that a rabbi would rather suffer death than eat with unwashed hands. These traditions were intended, so they said, to protect and guard the observance of the law. But actually, the Jews regarded their man-made observances as more sacred than the Ten Commandments themselves. If they had to choose between their traditions and God's law, they preferred their traditions.

Christ and His disciples were acquainted with these rabbinical requirements, but they ignored them. The Jewish spies observed this and accused the disciples in Christ's presence of breaking the laws of Israel. They said:

"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" (Matthew 15:2).

Jesus paid no attention to the accusation but came immediately to the heart of the whole issue and said:

"You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" (Mark 7:9).

"You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men' " (Matthew 15:7-9).

At this the deputies from Jerusalem were filled with rage. How could they find a cause for accusing Christ when He defended the law? Besides, His emphasis on God's great principles made their own defense of Pharisaical rules seem petty. Jesus taught that real defilement of the soul comes not from without but from within. The evil deed, the evil word, the evil thought—these constitute the transgressions of God's law, not the neglect of ceremonial washings (see Matthew 15:1-20).

The disciples observed closely the conversation between Jesus and the spies. "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" they asked Jesus (Matthew 15:12). Jesus answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots" (Matthew 15:13). By these words He pronounced a woe upon any man-made religious ordinance that has no clear basis in God's Word and His law.

At the feast of Tabernacles, which Christ attended about six months before his crucifixion, the spies once again confronted Him. How His patience must have been tried by the continual scheming and plotting of His enemies who devised every method to silence and embarrass Him! But he was ever the long suffering Son of God.

The religious leaders now questioned His claim to authority. They complained, "Who gave this unlearned, untutored man the right to teach the people?" (see John 7:15). Jesus replied:

"My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:16, 17).

Christ made it plain that the truth He taught came from God, while much of the teachings of the rabbis were mere human speculation. Thoughtful observers noted the contrast and accepted Christ as the Teacher sent from God (see John 3:2). Jesus said that a true teacher may be distinguished from a deceiver in the following way:

"He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him" (John 7:18).

Christ was seeking the glory of God. He spoke God's words. This should have been evidence of His authority as a teacher of truth. His doctrine itself bore the stamp of inspiration.

Jesus knew that ever since He had healed the cripple at Bethesda on the Sabbath day, His enemies had been plotting His death. Now He gave them evidence of His divinity by reading their hearts.

"Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?" (John 7:19).

Terrified by this revelation of their inner feelings, these men feigned indignation and said, "You are demon-possessed. . . . Who is trying to kill you?" John 7:20).

Christ's wisdom and power was too much for the rabbis. How could they answer His questions or disprove His doctrine? Deeply impressed, many of His listeners were inclined to accept Him as the Messiah. Some of them said:

"Isn't this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ?" (John 7:25, 26).

The rabbis could see that the crowds were attracted to Jesus. Their efforts to discredit Him were defeated, so they hurried away to the chief priests and revealed what had happened. Christ knew that this would only hasten their efforts to take His life, and He said to the crowd assembled before Him:

"I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come" (John 7:33, 34).

By these words Christ pointed forward to His ascension to heaven after His death and resurrection. The time was coming soon when He would return to His Father. There He would be beyond the reach of these would-be murderers. The rabbis said:

"Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?" (John 7:35).

These scoffers did not know how soon their words would be literally fulfilled. The gospel of Jesus Christ did go to the Gentiles, and from among those neglected people, to whom the Jews should have taken the knowledge of God, a people was raised up to take their place as God's children.

And now what is this? A small group of officers, delegated by the priests and rulers to arrest Jesus, press into the throng. At first, they listen to Him with a critical ear, hoping to catch something that might be twisted into an accusation, but His amazing words reach their hearts, and they are entranced. Christ is revealed to them as the Savior. They see what the priests and rulers refuse to see—a human being flooded with the glory of divinity, the light of heaven shining in the awful darkness (see John 7:37-44).

Returning to the rulers empty handed, they are faced with the angry question "Why didn't you bring him in?" (John 7:45). To this they solemnly reply, "No one ever spoke the way this man does" (John 7:46).

On this occasion Nicodemus, who was a secret believer in Jesus (see John 3:1-21), broke up the council's attempt to bring the Savior to judgment. He asked, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" (John 7:51). To this they replied:

"Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee" (John 7:52).

Nicodemus' providential interference halted the proceedings of the priests. At that time, they could not go any further in their plan to destroy Jesus. So they went to their homes, while Jesus left the temple and made His way slowly to the Mount of Olives.

(Read John 11:47-57)
As the last months of Christ's ministry passed, the strong feelings against Him culminated in His actual arrest and crucifixion. The resurrection of Lazarus brought the issue squarely before the priests (see John 11:1-46). Bethany, the scene of this great miracle, was only a few miles from Jerusalem, and the news of the raising of Lazarus from the dead had spread quickly to the large city. No one could deny that the miracle had actually taken place, for it was well known that Lazarus' body had been in the tomb for four days.

Immediately, the priests, rulers, and elders gathered together for consultation. What would they do with this Christ? It seemed that all the world was going after Him. They had to face the question which every person must eventually settle—"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:22). It was either crucify Him or enshrine Him in their hearts as Lord.

The Pharisees were in favor of Christ's destruction, but there were some men in the council who secretly believed in Him and doubtless spoke in His favor. As the discussion continued, there was great confusion. Deeply puzzled, they asked, "What are we accomplishing?" (John 11:47). At the height of their perplexity, Caiaphas, the high priest—a proud, cruel, overbearing, and intolerant man—arose and maliciously declared:

"You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish" (John 11:49, 50).

Even if Christ were innocent, Caiaphas suggested, He must be put out of the way. We can imagine him saying, "The authority of the priests and rulers is undermined through the influence of this man. Wouldn't it be better for him to die than for our authority to be despised by the people? After all, he is only one man, and he is very troublesome. Think of what would happen to our nation if the people went after him—our whole system of religion would perish!"

The arguments of Caiaphas won over the Sanhedrin, and the council received his words as if God himself had spoken.

"So from that day on they plotted to take his life" (John 11:53).

They determined to bide their time and to watch for an opportunity to destroy God's Son. They would not have long to wait. Within a few weeks, Jesus was taken away and executed. But of this and His unfair trial, we will read in the next two booklets—perhaps the most stirring of the series.

So now we must leave Jesus in the shadow of the cross, there to contemplate the scenes of trial so soon to come upon Him.


Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.