Written in April 1921 by His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia (1863-1936)
Introduction by The Saker: Today I am post another article written by an Orthodox Christian bishop, this time one of the most outstanding, if at times controversial ones, of the 20th century. If the previous article I posted was written by an Orthodox bishop right after the end of WWII, this one is written right after the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. Keep in mind, as Putin himself mentioned recently, that the Bolshevik regime was composed by something in the range of 80%-85% of Jews, thus in 1921 this topic was clearly on every Russian’s mind. It is interesting to note that, just as Bishop Nathaniel did in 1949, Metropolitan Anthony see the roots of the “Jewish question” in purely spiritual terms, even when they have a clear political dimension. You might say that it is not surprising to hear spiritual arguments from bishops, to which I would reply that the time when bishops made spiritual arguments is long, long gone, at least in our post-Christian society. I think that whether one agrees or not with the arguments presented, they are crucial to illustrate a fundamental point: from a truly Christian perspective there cannot be any argument based on concepts such as race or ethnicity – these are secular worldly categories which have no place in a truly Christian worldview.
Christ the Savior and the Jewish Revolution
It is well-known that the Gospel accounts of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus are almost identical in the first three Gospels, but that they differ in content from the fourth; not in the sense that the former contradict the latter, but in the sense that the Apostle John recounts sayings and events which are passed over in silence in the first three Gospels, while failing to make mention of the majority of those events recounted in the first three Gospels. Yet not only are there no contradictions between the first three and the last, but the attentive examiner of the Gospels readily notes that St. John presumes his reader to be familiar with the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke and supplements them, or provides elucidating remarks for his own account of the few events which he and the other evangelists describe, as, for example, the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, the Mystical Supper, Peter’s visit to the Lord’s tomb, et al. In general, one must say that, beginning with the description of the entry into Jerusalem and the betrayal by Judas, the accounts of all four Gospels blend more thoroughly than in the description of preceding events. But then, of the miraculous actions performed by Christ previously, only one – the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and the Savior’s walking on the water – is recorded by all four evangelists. It is precisely this event which provides us with the key to open the subject posed in the title, and which, furthermore, clarifies for us the relationship between the Gospel according to John and the first three Gospels.
Indeed, in the first three Gospels, the miracle of Christ’s walking on the water is the only miracle performed, as it were, without a definite purpose. One senses something unsaid, something deliberately unspoken. This suggests itself to the reader of the Gospels especially in view of one expression issuing from the pen of Matthew and Mark: “And straightway [after the miraculous feeding of the people] Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a boat, and to go to the other side…” (Mt. 14: 22; Mk. 6: 45). Why the haste and urgency? There is no mention; there is also no mention by the three evangelists of the impression produced upon the people by the miraculous feeding, although in recounting other miraculous events – e.g., the deaf mute, as well as the raising up of the son of the widow of Nain from the dead, and others – the first three evangelists continually make reference to this. In this case it is John alone who speaks of the impression made by the miracle on those who witnessed it, and from his words it is clear that this miracle, more than all the rest, moved the people to rapture and faith in the Savior, although, as we shall see, not for long.
But wherein lies John’s explanation of the miracle of walking upon the water? It is very short – two words in all – but from it it is easy to understand why the miracle took place, Jesus Christ’s urgent haste in sending the disciples over the lake, and why the other evangelists let all of this remain without explanation.
“Then those men, when they had seers the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus, therefore, perceived that they would take Him by force, to make Him a king, He departed then into the mountain Himself alone” (Jn. 6: 14-15).
Of course, the Jews postponed their decision to proclaim Christ a king until the morning; they would not have allowed the Savior to depart from them by boat, but were probably satisfied that He sent His disciples away and remained alone with the Jews, expecting that He would be less able to oppose their intention.
Why did the three evangelists pass over in silence the reason for Christ’s miraculous walking upon the water, which as we see from John, lay in the Lord’s desire to escape from their hands being forcibly proclaimed king? They kept silence for the same reason that they did concerning the resurrection of Lazarus, the Savior’s subsequent sentencing to death, the people’s rage which was kindled against Him when He permitted pagans to mock, in His Person, the nation’s beloved dream of a national king, i. e., Pilate’s announcement: “Behold your King!” They had to keep silent about such things because a Jewish kingdom was still in existence; for an explanation of this aspect of the events of Christ’s life would have been tantamount to a denunciation of the popular uprising then in preparation, of the nation-wide revolutionary mood inspired and fueled by the Sanhedrin and the scribes. The sacred authors, disciples of Christ, quite wisely protected themselves against the hostile Jews’ suspicion that they would betray them, would denounce the great rebellion being prepared by the Jews against Roman domination and which broke out in force in A. D. 67. They acted in this way when recounting the earthly life of Christ, and later, when recording their own activities. When the Apostle Paul, for example, arrived in Rome, he considered it his duty, at his first encounter with his compatriots, to explain that he was appearing before Caesar’s tribunal, “not that (he) had ought to accuse [his] people of (Acts 28: 19), but in order to acquit himself.
Such circumspection was totally unnecessary by the time the fourth Gospel was written, i. e., after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish kingdom by Vespasian and Titus. It was not necessary for St. John to pass over in silence those aspects of the Gospel events, the description of which could have resulted in retribution on the part of the Jewish government, e.g. who it was exactly who cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest, while not one of the first three evangelists decided to name Simon Peter as the one who had wielded the sword, but all three contented themselves with the expression: “one of those who were with Jesus,” not even calling him His apostle or disciple (only John calls by name the one who drew his sword and the one who was wounded by the sword). For this same reason the Synoptics keep silence concerning the resurrection of Lazarus, since he had been condemned to death by the Sanhedrin as an alleged criminal who, as is known from the most ancient accounts, was forced to flee to Cyprus, and moreover was exceedingly weighed down by the remembrance of his death and resurrection; for the Jews who were there in great numbers followed the Christians everywhere and incited the pagans against them, and sometimes even those who were the dregs of society, as we can also see from the Book of Acts (14: 1; 17: 5; et al.).
Regarding Lazarus, his name is not mentioned at all in the first three Gospels, unless one counts the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (which doubtless is also connected with what was to take place at his resurrection), although Mary and Martha are mentioned; so that John, in giving an account of Lazarus, puts forth the names of his sisters as well-known to the reader: “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha” (Jn. 11: 1). John senses that readers of the first three Gospels were perplexed as to how the triumphal honoring of Christ by the people could have taken place in view of the Lord’s last entry into Jerusalem, when those surrounding Him expected the capital to react to Him in a completely different way, and “were amazed and, as they followed Him, they were afraid” (Mk. 10: 32); the Apostle John, in his turn, confirms that the disciples of Christ tried to dissuade the Savior from going anywhere near Jerusalem when He prepared to announce that He was going to resurrect Lazarus. “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee; and goest Thou there again?”, yet they nonetheless heeded the call of the brave Thomas: “Let us all go, that we may die with Him” (in. 11: 8, 16).
And suddenly, instead of the expected persecution – a triumphal greeting with palm branches! The perplexity of one who has read the first three Gospels is dispelled by reading the fourth, from which he learns that the greeting was preceded by the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which brought many Jews to believe in Christ (Jn. 11: 15); and the evangelist confirms for him precisely this connection between the events: “For this cause the people also met Him; for they heard that He had done this miracle” (Jn. 12: 18). Of the other evangelists, only Luke gives a hint of the special impetus the believing people had to glorify the arriving Savior: “The whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, Blessed be the King Who cometh in the name of the Lord” (Lk. 19: 37-38). For reasons already indicated, Luke was unable to explain that it was not so much the miracles of Christ in general which is to be understood in this passage, as the raising from the dead of one who had lain four days in the tomb, which had taken place only a short while before. Renan, who rejects this event, was unable to explain in his book either the event of the triumphal entry or the sentence passed upon the Savior immediately afterwards.
Thus, the silence of certain of the evangelists concerning what the fourth makes clear depends upon the Jewish revolution which was coming to ripeness in the Savior’s time, and which was directed by the Sanhedrin. From the Gospel episodes cited above, another truth, unremarked by biblical science, also becomes clear – that the Jewish revolution came into extremely close contact with the earthly life of Christ the Savior and in general defined by itself (of course with the particular permission of God) many of the events of the Gospel; further on we shall see that it was the principal reason for the arousing of the hatred of the people against Christ, which brought Him to be crucified.
Have we any other historical data that the uprising of the Jews, which burst into flame with such terrible force in the year 67, had ripened long before and with time erupted chronically throughout the entire first century of our chronology? Of course we have. We will not expatiate on the extreme freedom-loving and mutinous temper of the Jewish people throughout the whole of its history, which began with the era of King David (II Kings [Samuel], chs. 15-18, 20) and reached the highest degree of tension in the era of the Maccabee brethren: we will say only that that most ardent friend of the people, the Prophet Jeremiah, dedicated nearly a quarter of his extensive book to urging his compatriots not to rise up against the invincible might of the king of Babylon, yet was unable to secure the aim of his admonitions even when Jerusalem and its temple were already destroyed, almost all the people led away into captivity, and only a little band of common folk remained, which nevertheless, with mindless courage, launched itself at the representatives of the Babylonian military regime and thereby condemned the entire remnant of the people to death and their country to utter devastation. The Jews of the time of the earthly life of Christ were also of a similar temper. Finding it impossible under the ever-vigilant Roman regime to organize rebellions in the cities, their leaders led their followers out into the wilderness; yet even these attempts were, of course, put down by the military might of the Romans. Here are the words of Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin, uttered shortly after the Lord’s ascension: “But before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves; who was slain, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the registration, and drew away many people after him; he also perished, and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed” (Acts 5: 36-37). It was probably them that the Lord mentioned, calling them “thieves and robbers” (Jn. 10: 8).
Similar undertakings on the part of the rebels continued during the time of the apostle’s preaching. When the Apostle Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, the chief captain asked him: “Art not thou that Egyptian, who before these days, madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?” (Acts 21: 38). We know from the Gospel that the fateful “Barabbas,. . . for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison” (Lk. 23: 1819), and of course by this very fact attracted to his side the people’s sympathy expressed in such an insistent form before Pilate and heated up by the high priests and the members of the Sanhedrin (Mk. 5: 11).
Thus having taken note of the revolutionary mood of the Jews which was supported by the Sanhedrin, we shall not only grasp with total clarity the events surrounding the miraculous feeding of the five thousand with five loaves, but we will also understand the fateful significance which these events had in the earthly life of Christ the Savior. “Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world,” and they decided to “come and take Him by force, to make Him a king” (Jn. 6: 14-15).
It is now quite understandable exactly why this miracle, and not any other, produced such a reaction in the revolutionary people. They found in Christ what was most necessary to have, but what was more difficult for a rebellion to obtain – a ready source of bread. At that time it was not possible to equip oneself with cannons and armored trains: the outcome was decided by the vital force of the people and by cold steel; but to amass provisions under the watchful observation of the Romans was impossible in the wilderness places, where, as we have seen from the Book of Acts, the insurgents concentrated their forces. In Moses’ time, in the wilderness, manna was sent down from heaven directly upon Israel who had risen up against Egypt; and now this new Prophet was able to do the same thing that God had done of old. What was needed, though, was the force to compel Him to place Himself at the head of the popular uprising. The Lord escaped their hands in a manner such as none of the people were capable of foreseeing: He walked away over the water, as though on dry land. Thus the purpose of this miracle becomes quite clear.
Naturally, Christ’s secret departure was not at all pleasing to the Jews. The Apostle John devotes several chapters of his Gospel to their further conversations with Christ, in which they remind Him of the heavenly bread in Moses’ time and demand that the miracle be continued. Of course, they could not speak directly of the rebellion they desired, but when the Lord began to unfold His teaching concerning another bread, the spiritual bread, and then concerning the Bread of the New Covenant, the eucharistic Bread which is His all-pure Body; when He promised to the Jews who believed in Him a moral freedom instead of a political freedom and spoke of the scant value of the latter, the ecstasy of the people, which had been prompted by the miracle of the five loaves, gradually changed to grumbling, and subsequently these exchanges, resumed in Jerusalem, conclude with the people taking up stones to kill the One they wished to proclaim king but a short while before. Read the Gospel according to John, and you will see that the Savior’s refusal of this choice and the discourses which followed after it, which were not in sympathy with the uprising, constitute the turning point in the Jews attitude toward Christ the Savior. It is from this that the people’s enmity began; and though it was overcome by the resurrection of Lazarus, this was not for long. But let us turn to the Gospel account.
The people searched for Jesus where He had fed them with the five loaves, and unable to find Him, in perplexity they embarked in boats which had recently arrived from the other shore and, to their astonishment, found Him in Capernaum, to which it was not possible for Him to have gone earlier, in that since evening there had not been a single boat left. “Rabbi, when camest thou here?” (Jn. 6:25).
The Lord did not answer their question, but reproved them: “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labor not for the food which perisheth, but for that food which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you” (Jn. 6: 27-27). This is not an upbraiding because of gluttony: the day before the people, carried away listening to the words of God, even forgot their daily bread, following Jesus into the wilderness. No, the Lord was displeased because they still had in mind what is earthly, temporal – an uprising against the Romans, military preparations, etc., which would nonetheless end in death, just like the triumphal passing of their forefathers through the desert. “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat of it, and not die” (Jn. 6:49-50). Before these words were spoken, the Jews had not yet lost all hope of persuading Christ to become for them another Moses, a leader, and they asked: “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (Jn. 6: 28), referring to the miraculous leadership of Moses; and they added: “Lord, evermore give us this bread!” (v. 38), for then the success of the uprising would be assured. But Christ’s subsequent words about spiritual bread and life everlasting disenchanted the hotheaded Jews, and many even of His disciples lost their faith in Him (v. 64), “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him” (v. 66). It is apparent that the heart of Judas also departed from Christ at this time, and He said: “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (vv. 71-72). The decisive meaning of this event is demonstrated also by the following verse which commentators do not accord the necessary attention. “After these things, Jesus walked in Galilee: for He would not walk in Judea because the Jews sought to kill Him” (Jn. 7: 1). “After these things”, i.e. after the discourse which took place in Capernaum in Galilee. It is obvious that a report about this was made to rebel headquarters, i.e. the Sanhedrin, just as one was later made about the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn. 11: 46); and there they resolved to part company with the new Prophet Who was summoning the people to a different way of life, just as they had separated themselves from John the Baptist (Mt. 17: 12; Mk. 9: 13) who, when the people asked: What should we do? answered them with instructions of a purely moral character and did not support their chauvinistic aspirations (Lk. 3: 7-8, 11).
How far the clerical, and even popular, enmity directed against the Savior began then to assume an active character is clearly apparent from the further actions and words of Christ. When His brethren called Him to the approaching feast of tabernacles, He spoke to them of the world’s hatred for Him and did not go openly to Jerusalem, but secretly, as it were (Jn. 7: 7, 10); yet when He arrived and excited the people’s reverent astonishment by His teaching, without hesitation, and apparently without immediate cause, He said: “Why go ye about to kill Me?” (Jn. 7: 19). These words were so unexpected that “the people answered and said, Thou hast a demon; who goeth about to kill Thee?” (v. 20). However, as though in confirmation of Christ’s words, very soon “they sought to take Him,” first in the midst of the people (v. 30), and later by the servants of the Pharisees deliberately sent (v. 32); but no one laid a hand on Him (v. 30). The latter expression (Jn. 8:20) has a more important meaning than is apparent at first glance. In another article (“The Kiss of Judas”) we made clear, using the words of the Pentateuch, that it was forbidden by the law of God, by which the Jewish nation was governed, to condemn anyone without responsible informers who, when making an accusation against a man for something, had to lay their hands on his head and, after the death sentence, were required to be the first to cast stones at him (Lev. 24:14; Deut. 17:4-7). This no one undertook to do to the Savior, for false accusation was punished severely by the law: it subjected the informer to the fate he prepared for his victim (Deut. 19:19). Read the story of Susanna and the Two Elders (appended to the Book of Daniel), the account of the woman taken in adultery (Jn. 8), the condemnation of the Archdeacon Stephen and, finally, the trial of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and of the Apostle Paul by the Sanhedrin, and you will see that it was no easy matter for the enemies of justice to circumvent this wise law.
What did the enemies of Christ hope to accomplish in attempting to arrest Him, then? Of course, they were unable to lodge accusations against Him for not wanting to take part in an uprising; therefore they apparently returned to an old one – Christ’s healing of a paralytic on the Sabbath day, although this healing, which was performed in Jerusalem, preceded the miraculous feeding of the five thousand in Galilee, where the Lord went at that time, departing from the capitol unhindered, having delivered a tirade against the Jews because they murmured against the healing. And if after His return from Galilee the Savior was again compelled to justify a healing on the Sabbath, it was of course because that occurrence, as one not performed before witnesses, was probably interpreted by His lying enemies as an ordinary cure and could serve unscrupulous people as an object of accusation of violating the Sabbath rest, which, according to the law of God given through Moses, was punishable by death (Num. 1:33). The Savior always triumphantly refuted attempts to accuse Him of violating the Sabbath, when He performed healings on that day and shamed His accusers while the people approved His words (Lk. 13:17; cf. also 14:4-6). In the present instance, when it became clear that Jesus Christ was not in sympathy with the planned uprising, the malice of the Sanhedrin and the fanatic revolutionaries of Jerusalem reached such a degree that, incapable of concealing the real reason for their bitterness, they again brought up the case of the healing of the paralytic; but the Lord understood well where the actual reason for their enmity lay, and therefore, having spoken twice again concerning the legality of healing of the suffering on the Sabbath (Jn. 7: 22-24), and having vanquished this new attempt on the part of the Pharisees to accuse Him of violating the law in the case of the woman taken in adultery, on the second day after His arrival in Jerusalem He again directed His discourse toward the people of Judea who thirsted for political freedom and told them of that higher, spiritual freedom which He brought to earth by His teaching. On that day, as on the day before, the people wavered between belief and bitterness of heart (Jn. 7: 31, 8:30). The Savior’s sincere speech, His staunch profession of His obedience to the Father Who sent Him: all of this poured the holy faith into the hearts of those who listened to Him, yet they were unable to wrest their hearts from their cherished dream of an uprising against the Romans under the direction of the awaited Messiah, of the extermination of all their enemies and the subjugation of the entire world to themselves, basing such hopes on a faulty interpretation of the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel and other prophecies. Such, and only such, an understanding of the current mood of those who listened to Christ makes clear for us the pertinence and consistency of the words of comfort which the Lord extended to those who believed in Him. His words were these: “If ye continue in My word, then ye are My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
Earlier, there had been no talk at all of freedom: the Lord here responds to the secret thoughts and desires of those who were listening to Him. But this reply did not please the crowd. “They answered Him: We are Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man. How sayest Thou, Ye shall be free?” (Jn. 8:33). Was this response a provocation with the objective of compelling the Savior to mention the Roman yoke, as later were the question of the coin and the slandering of Christ before Pilate in averring that He called Himself king and commanded that tribute not be given to Caesar (Lk. 23:2), when they threatened Pilate himself with denunciation before Caesar (Jn. 19:12), or is what we have here merely an extreme hatred of the Roman yoke, which the people refused to acknowledge as fact? It is possible that it was all of these things. Legally, the Jewish nation, like the majority of the nations absorbed into the Roman Empire, possessed an autonomy, which the Roman government tried to reduce (Jn. 11:48), but which the Jewish revolutionary theocracy strove to expand (Jn. 18:30-31); under such conditions, the mood of the masses of the people became dichotomous: among themselves the people lament their enslavement, but if anyone from the outside points out their subjugation to them, they begin to speak haughtily of their autonomy and their equality by right with the people that holds them in submission. In such a dichotomous temper it is sincerity which is absent, first of all, and therein, it would seem, lies the reason that the Lord, almost without warning, began to denounce those with whom He was speaking for satanic falsity, calling them children of the lying devil and liars (Jn. 8: 55), again (cf. 6:49-50) promising blessed immortality to those who believe in Him, instead of an earthly kingdom (Jn. 8: 51). Then the discourse ended with the people’s cooling toward the Savior; but now, when it became definitely clear that He did not value political freedom in any way or all the good things of the transitory life of man and nations in general, His interlocutors, doubly exasperated and more so by His direct reproaches against them, picked up stones with which to shower the Teacher.
In this discourse, one must say, the opposition between the Christian moral freedom and political freedom is proclaimed with particular clarity in speeches which, in the majority of interpretations, remain misunderstood; but they are more than comprehensible in our elucidation of the sense of this discourse. Look at these words: “A slave [such as the Jews were] does not remain forever in a household; the son remaineth forever. Thus, if the son free you, ye are truly freed” (Jn. 8: 3536). True freedom, in the imaginary counterbalance, is a moral, Christian freedom in which the Christian remains everlastingly; and the people, preserving it, will remain eternally in the house of the heavenly Father with His Son, i.e. in the Church with Christ, and even here in the Promised Land, from which slaves of sin, even though they are the seed of Abraham (Jn. 8: 37) can be driven and replaced with another nation or nations, as did in fact happen in accordance with another prediction of the Savior (Mt. 21:43; Lk. 19:43-44) and, moreover, at the very time when they hoped to establish a free Jewish realm in the time of Vespasian and Titus [Editor’s Note: i.e, the Roman general and second-in-command who, in A.D. 70, crushed the first Jewish revolt, in which about two million Jews died and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed]. It is understandable that similar warnings aroused the hatred of the chauvinistic revolutionaries. However, the healing of the man born blind, which followed after this, again elicited faith in Him, and although Christ’s later conversations once more resulted in the Jews attempting to cast stones at Him, the number of believers increased (Jn. 10:21, 42) and the quarrel between those who sought the heavenly kingdom and those who sought an earthly one intensified among the people and even among the Pharisees (Jn. 7:12, 9:16, 10:19).
The miracle of the resurrecting of Lazarus intensified the division, as well as the Sanhedrin’s fear for the revolutionary solidarity of the nation which was hitherto in submission to them; and there was cause for their fear. As long as the Lord, deprecating the earthly hopes of Israel, had been promising believers everlasting life only orally, His message was unable to captivate many – on the contrary, it alienated many from Him, because it was a promise incapable of fulfillment (Jn. 6:58-60; 8:52).
But the staggering miracle of the raising from the dead of a man four days in the tomb confirmed with such clarity Christ’s promises of eternal life to those who believed in Him, and were able to satisfy them with Christ’s faith to such an extent, that they were not only filled with that faith, as John bears witness (Jn. 11:45) but even prepared a triumphal greeting for Him in Jerusalem, whereas the apostles tried to persuade Him not to go to Jerusalem, but finally heeded the words of Thomas: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (Jn. 11: 16). Yet the people’s rapture was the reason for the death-sentence pronounced over the Savior in the Sanhedrin.
Unfortunately, commentators usually understand this sentence in a sense completely at variance with its actual significance. “Then many of the Jews who came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did believed on Him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? For this Man doeth many miracles. If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him; and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (Jn. 11:45-48).
Short-sighted commentators find here the Sanhedrin’s fear of the Romans in the sense that they later could take the nascent Christian religious movement as a revolt and could completely enslave Judea to themselves. But the Romans were not so stupid. On the contrary, in the person of Pilate they tried to save Christ from the enmity of the Jews, knowing “that for envy they had delivered Him” (Mt. 27:18). “Am I a Jew?” Pilate asked Christ in answer to His question; “Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me. What hast Thou done?” (Jn. 18:35). It was not that the Sanhedrin, in passing a death sentence upon the Savior, was reacting to any fear that the Romans would consider the Christians revolutionaries; on the contrary, they were afraid that, under the Savior’s influence, the people would cool completely toward the revolutionary direction supported by the Sanhedrin, would cease even to show opposition to Roman usurpations, and that the Romans, unimpeded, would abolish Jewish autonomy and civilization, something Antiochus Epiphanes had not accomplished, thanks to the revolt of the Maccabees. This is why the enemies of Christ, while not in the least doubting the authenticity of the miracle performed over Lazarus and the rest of Christ’s miracles, and ready to acknowledge His innocence, agreed with the fatal verdict of Caiaphas and “from that day forth took council together to put Him to death” (Jn. 11: 53). It was they who were alarmed by the growing belief in Christ. “But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death, because, by reason of him, many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (Jn. 12:10-11), and when the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place, “the Pharisees … said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after Him!” (v. 19). What was it in which they prevailed nothing? Obviously in their attempts to put a stop to the honor shown the entering Savior (Lk. 19: 39) and in preparing a popular uprising. Moreover, the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem not only caused the Romans no anxiety, even though “all the city was moved” (Mt. 21: 10), but by its very nature was completely anti-revolutionary, peaceful, as the personification of a purely spiritual authority, which is foreign not only to violence and weaponry, but also to every kind of luxury, in fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, just, and a Savior; He is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal. And He shall destroy the chariots out of Ephraim, and the horse out of Jerusalem, and the bow of war shall be utterly destroyed; and there shall be abundance and peace out of the nations . . .” (Zech. 9:9-10). This prophecy, so clearly fulfilled in the regal entry of the Lord into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:5; Jn. 12:15), was quite foreign to the militant, revolutionary spirit, as was the very event foretold by it, and it is entirely understandable that the enemies of Christ, who were laying plans for an armed revolt against the Romans, felt that the ground was about to be cut from under them and decided, come what may, to destroy the Savior, although this would not be so easy according to biblical laws, as we have seen above.
According to the literal sense of the law, which we pointed out, it was essential that two or three witnesses lay their hands on the head of the accused and declare definitely what it was of which they were accusing him. Before this day, no one had resolved to do this, despite the attempts of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin to find such. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the people were on the side of Christ. Vexed by Christ’s parable of the wicked vine-tenders, the priests and elders “sought to lay hold of Him, but feared the people” (Mk. 12:12), the more so when at the time of Christ’s disputes with the Pharisees “the common people heard Him gladly” (v. 37) All of this took place after the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. It is hence apparent that the change in the people’s mood which was revealed in Pilate’s presence did not develop over a period of five days, as is usually stated in sermons, but in a much shorter period of time. Just how it was we shall soon see, but now let us recall that even on Wednesday of Passion Week the enemies of Christ “were afraid” of the people who were well-disposed towards Him, for on that day Judas “promised, and sought opportunity to betray Him unto them in the absence of the multitude” (Lk. 22:2-6). Nevertheless, by this declaration of the traitor the single difficulty in arresting the Savior was finally eliminated: a witness had been found. It is understandable that “they were glad, and covenanted to give him money” (v. 5). Accordingly, their reason for needing the betrayer was not at all to have him point out where Jesus was alone with His disciples: it would have been easier for them to track down twelve men in the city through their own servants; but according to biblical law they had no right to sieze Christ without an accuser, and according to Roman law they could not execute Him unless such were approved by the procurator, and consequently without a preliminary arrest. Judas did as he promised, though not exactly: he decided not to place his hand on the Master’s head, but replaced this ritual gesture with a kiss, telling the guardsmen and the Pharisees beforehand: “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; take Him, and lead Him away safely” (Mk. 14:4). This is why the Lord said: “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Lk. 22:48). This kiss was not an indication of which of the group was Jesus, for all or most of those who were with Judas knew Him; no, his kiss was the ritual gesture necessary for the arrest of the accused. But the ritual gesture was not exact, and it is perhaps for this reason that the soldiers decided not to lay hands on the Savior immediately. And He Himself did not help them, casting them to the ground beforehand with the power of His spirit. ” ‘Whom seek ye’. . .Jesus of Nazareth.’ …’I am He.’… Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus and bound Him” (Jn. 18:4-12).
The Lord was brought to the high priest for trial at night, in violation of the law, but the informer, tormented by his conscience, hid himself and soon afterwards hanged himself. Again there were difficulties: how could one conduct a trial without the witnesses who had betrayed the accused to the court? The law of God says: “He shall die on the testimony of two or three witnesses; a man who is put to death shall not be put to death for one witness. And the hand of the witnesses shall be upon him to death, and the hand of the people at the last” (Deut. 17:6-7). Moreover, there is a proviso: “Thou shalt enquire and ask, and search diligently” (Deut. 13:14). The enemies of Christ knew that even then the people were on His side, and they understood that they would have to shoulder tremendous responsibility for this terrible deed, and were therefore doubly afraid to violate the requirement of the law. The Book of Acts reinforces our conviction that the chief priests and Pharisees “feared the people, lest they should have been stoned” (Acts 5:26), and they reproached the disciples of Christ, saying: “Ye … intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us!” (v. 28).
However, personal revenge, malice and envy, and even more so concern for their favorite plan of revolution, which they had worked on, won out. According to the law, they should have released Jesus Christ for want of witnesses (Lk. 22:68), but such was far from their intention, and contrary to the law, they themselves began to search for witnesses, i.e. false witnesses, concerning which the evangelists Matthew (26:56-61) and Mark (14:55-59) speak with particular clarity. John mentions the fact that at the first interrogation the High Priest Annas himself began to question Jesus Christ about His teaching and His disciples, and when the Lord reminded him that it was for others to accuse Him, a soldier struck Him in the face, although the Savior had merely pointed out the requirement of the biblical law. [Cf. the illegal interrogation of Christ by Pilate (Jn. 18:34) and that of the Apostle Paul in the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-5).] The three remaining evangelists recount that, wearied by the unsuccessful cross-examination of the perjured witnesses, the judges of Christ, contrary to the law, began themselves to demand of Him that He say whether He considered Himself the Christ, the Son of God. The Lord did not reply, until Caiaphas repeated the question with an oath. Then the Savior answered, but first explained His silence: “If I tell you, you will not believe. And if I also ask you, you will not answer Me, nor let Me go” (Lk. 22: 67-68).
Once, the Lord had asked the Jews: ” ‘What think ye of the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said unto them, ‘How, then, doth David, in the Spirit, call Him Lord … ?’ And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions” (Mt. 22:42-44). Here He would probably have liked to ask them of what Son of man going to God on the clouds of heaven does Daniel speak? However, convinced that He would not receive an answer to the question, the Lord speaks of this already in the affirmative sense: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mt. 26:64). These are nearly the literal words of Daniel: “I beheld in the night visions, and, lo, One coming with the clouds of heaven as the Son of man, and He came on to the Ancient of Days, and was brought near to Him. And to Him was given the dominion, and the honor, and the kingdom; and all the nations, tribes and tongues, shall serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). Who would have dared accuse the Teacher because He cited the words of the Sacred Scriptures? Yet the chief priests pretended not to recognize in Christ’s words a quote from the ancient prophet and played out a scene of sacred indignation, like a man who has listened to blasphemy. The Sanhedrin unanimously condemned the Savior to death, permitting the violation of the law both in the manner in which the interrogation was conducted and in the very qualification of the alleged crime, for the Jews applied that prophecy to the Messiah, despite the fact that they expected Him to come as an ordinary Man Who is made worthy of such glorification; that is why the Lord had to convince Nicodemus that man is never accounted worthy of such glory, because “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man Who is in heaven” (Jn. 3:13). If the Jews hoped that the Messiah would be vouchsafed such glory, being simply a man, then wherein would lie the blasphemy if Jesus Christ, Who stood before them in the guise of a man, applied these words to Himself? They could refuse to agree with Him, to maintain that this glory is appointed for another man, but to see blasphemy in words taken from the book of sacred prophecy was possible only for those pretending to forget whence these words were borrowed. And this is exactly what Caiaphas and the entire Sanhedrin did. We have dwelt upon this event in Christ’s life to show once more in what strict accord with the teaching of the biblical law He acted and taught, and consequently how foolish is the opinion that the Sanhedrin was convinced that the Savior was a popular revolutionary and violator of the law. The Sanhedrin itself was both, as is, made clear from all the foregoing and as will be made clear in a still more definite manner from the following events which accompany the sufferings of Christ.
Let us begin with the question posed earlier, yet which remains still without explanation: when did the final change of the people’s feelings, from favorable disposition to opposition with regard to the Savior, take place? The evangelists Mark and John answer this for us. From the former we learn of something which has not attracted the notice of biblical scholarship. Instructed by the latter, people were accustomed to think that the crowd which stood before Pilate had followed the Sanhedrin and its Victim in, and that the conversation with Pilate was about Christ; but later, when Pilate proposed freeing the Savior for the sake of the Passover, the people would not agree to this, and began to insist that the robber Barabbas be released.
Such an unexpected and pointless joining of the people to the malevolent, accusatory procession with Christ to trial by a pagan, while His very betrayal and preliminary interrogation were conducted at night out of fear of a popular riot (Mt. 26:5; Mk. 14:2), with a similar understanding of the events, remains totally unnatural. In actual fact, the people’s sympathy for the Savior continued as far as Friday morning, and the people themselves appeared before Pilate in the praetorium not because they had followed Christ in, but because they were there on other, personal business. This follows from the account of Mark, and if in his Gospel, as in all the first three evangelists, the people’s demand that Christ be condemned seems nonetheless unexpected, this is so for the same reason that they leave unexplained why the Savior walked on the water. But we will return to this. How does Mark describe the appearance before Pilate of a crowd of people? He writes that when Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus Christ had already begun, at that time “the multitude, crying aloud, began to desire [Pilate] to do as he had ever done for them” (Mk. 15:8), because “at [every] feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired” (v. 6). Thus, the cries of the crowd for the fulfillment of this custom were raised without any relation to the legal case of Jesus Christ. One of three things happened: either those who brought the Savior found in the vicinity of the praetorium a crowd of people who had gathered together to petition in behalf of Barabbas, or the crowd arrived and found the enemies of Christ, with their divine Prisoner, assembled at Pilate’s, or both crowds happened to arrive at the same time, but from different places and on different business. One can find an indication of this in the Gospel of St. Matthew. There, the evangelist, describing the interrogation of the Savior and the amazement of Pilate continues: “Therefore, when they were gathered together [i.e., the people, not those who accompanied Jesus Christ], Pilate said unto them, ‘Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus, Who is called Christ?’ ” (Mt. 27:17).
Why was Barabbas so well-loved by the people? Why did they ask Pilate to release him with such insistence? Why was Pilate so reluctant to let him go? The Apostle John, adding details to the brief accounts of the other evangelists, speaks, as is his wont, quite briefly of what in their narratives is set forth more fully: he, for example, passes over in silence the thirty pieces of silver, the false witnesses, Jesus Christ’s answer taken from the prophecy of Daniel, Herod, the good thief, et. al. He speaks of Barabbas more briefly than the other Gospels: “Now Barabbas was a robber” (Jn. 18:40).
It is strange that under this simple epithet he has remained in the memory of both the believers and the scholarly commentators. Yet the people do not take the part of simple robbers, but demand stricter punishments for them than the judicial authorities are usually inclined to mete out. Read in the other Gospels words concerning Barabbas which you have not noticed heretofore.
This is what Mark writes: “And there was one named Barabbas, who lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mk. 15:71). Luke reports that Barabbas, “for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison” (Lk. 23:19).
Only Matthew limits himself to the short expression: “And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas” (Mt. 27:16).
From these excerpts it is clear in each case that Barabbas was not simply a robber, but a revolutionary, the leader of a gang, a person well-known to the people, who was the instigator of urban revolt. This is why he was the darling of the revolutionary party and of its leadership in particular. Read further in Mark: “But the chief priests stirred up the people, that [Pilate] should rather release Barabbas unto them” (Mk. 15:11).
How rich is the content of these few words which are almost completely ignored by scholarship! It must be admitted that I myself arrived at their meaning only in the fifth decade of my life. Apparent from these words, firstly, is what the Sanhedrin said after the Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, i.e., that the chief priests and Pharisees were taking part in the popular uprising which was in preparation, or rather, were directing it, and that the commentators’ notions that they were going to have Christ put to death out of fear of a popular revolt are entirely at variance with historical reality. Secondly, it is clear from this that during these fateful moments the people were not yet against Christ, that they wavered when confronted with a choice between Him and Barabbas, of which one may find an indication in the second speech of the Apostle Peter after the Lord’s ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 3:13). It is quite possible that evil men suggested to the people that they might be releasing Jesus Christ-as someone innocent of any wrongdoing, but that Pilate was proposing that he release Him to the loving crowd only to avoid releasing Barabbas, the hero of the revolution; in any case, the sympathy of the people for the latter was expressed with considerable insistence, and if the chief priests had to resort to persuasion to convince the crowd to prefer him to Jesus Christ (cf. Mt. 27:20), it is clear how far the people still were from that malicious hatred of the Savior which flared up in a very short time with such dreadful force, even impelling them to call down a curse on themselves and their posterity. The reason for the gradual growth of the latter is explained only by John, and in the accounts of the first three evangelists, especially Matthew and Mark, this speedy change from wavering to rabid enmity remains completely incomprehensible; but their silence concerning this rapid alteration is explained, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, only by the fact that they were unable to write about it because to make the matter plain would have meant exposing the revolutionary mood of the people and hastening the abolition of their autonomy, which happened after the revolt of A.D. 67 and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The writer of the fourth Gospel did not have to circumvent this aspect of the events in silence, for his Gospel was written after the destruction of the Jewish realm.
True to his custom of avoiding what the other evangelists had already written, the Apostle John does not even mention what Jesus Christ was accused of by His enemies, but problably presumes that the reader is acquainted with the words of the third Gospel: “And they began to accuse Him (before Pilate], saying, We found this Fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Lk. 23:2).
The possibility mentioned is based on the fact that, according to John, Pilate immediately asked Jesus Christ: “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” (Jn. 18: 33). The enemies of Christ knew what sort of accusation would be of the most interest to the Roman procurator, and this is why, in accordance with Jewish custom, they did not stop at that most intentional slander concerning tribute and the subversion of authority, whereas the Savior had brought upon Himself the displeasure of the people, who rejected the latter; and we all know what He said about the legality of paying tribute to the Romans. The Savior’s answer that His kingdom is not of this world and what He said about the truth convinced Pilate of His innocence, for even earlier the procurator was aware that they were betraying Christ out of envy (Mk. 15:10). Pilate, however, was apparently annoyed with the Jews and, mocking their revolutionary mood, said unto them: “Will ye, therefore, that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” (Jn. 18: 39). The following verse, as also Mark’s narrative, gives one reason to think that the intercession for Barabbas had begun prior to Jesus Christ being brought before Pilate, for that verse reads as follows: “Then cried they all again, saying, Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Why does the word “again” appear here? The evangelist has not mentioned any previous outcry of the people. It must be supposed that the argument over Barabbas had begun earlier, and was later interrupted by the appearance of the Savior’s enemies and Himself, which Pilate wanted to use so that, instead of a rebel whom the Roman procurator in no wise wished to have around, he could free the innocent Teacher. In the people’s cries in response to this their hostile relationship to the Savior has still not become definite, but only their desire to come to the aid of Barabbas. After this, no further mention of Barabbas is made in the fourth Gospel: apparently Pilate had then already decided to meet the demands of the mob which was sympathetic to the rebel Barabbas, but he also decided to avenge himself on the revolutionary people, ridiculing their idea of a national king who would cast off the yoke of Rome. In this Pilate wished to half-satisfy the feelings of malice of the enemies of Christ, and so, when he heard the cries going up for Barabbas, “then Pilate, therefore, took Jesus, and scourged Him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe [the one in which Herod had arrayed Him], and said, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote Him on the cheeks. Pilate, therefore, went forth again, and said unto them, Behold, I bring Him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in Him” (Jn. 19:1-4). Of course from a humanitarian point of view it is terrible to beat a man known to be innocent and to subject him to ridicule; but the prideful and arrogant Roman thought that it would be a mercy for Jesus Christ if, instead of the death sentence demanded by His enemies, He be subjected merely to a beating and mockery which, moreover, would not apply so much to Him as to the autocratic plans of the Jews. Besides, Pilate tried to elicit sympathy for the Victim of the Pharisees’ hatred, Who had suffered so much already. “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said unto them, Behold the Man!” (v. 5).
The procurator probably did not stop to think that the mockery of the people’s ideal, the people’s yearning for freedom, for the possibility of wreaking vengeance upon the cause of their being oppressed, would be transferred to the One in Whose Person the mockery of their concept of revolution was made. But such is usually the case. However, even at this moment love for Christ and the remembrance of His benefactions had not been utterly wrested from the hearts of the people: the people still wavered. But then, “when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (v. 6). In these hearts there was no sympathy, and to personal hatred was added the enmity because in His own Person the Wonderworker had allowed heathens to ridicule what they held dearest: before, He had expressed no sympathy for their uprising, but now He was prepared to endure torture rather than defend the honor of the nation and its future kings with a new miracle. Hence the further mockery heaped upon the Savior on Golgotha by the chief priests, scribes, elders and Pharisees, who were incensed by the insult to the nation contained in the inscription on the Cross – “He saved others; Himself He cannot save!” (Mt. 27:41; Mk. 15:31; Lk. 33:35). But still, shouting alone was not enough: new arguments were needed to prevail upon Pilate to agree to the crucifixion of the Savior, the more so since the people were still wavering between their former love and sympathy for Christ and disgust over what they saw before them. Thus, the chief priests, their servants, the Pharisees, whom John calls “the Jews,” detaching them from the general understanding of “the people,” cited their own law, according to which Jesus had to be killed “because He made Himself the Son of God” (Jn. 19:7). There is, of course, no such law, and we know how the Lord deflected such an accusation earlier (Jn. 10: 34-36); furthermore, the Jews in general thought of the Messiah as the Son of God (Jn. 1:34, 49) – although not as God. But as regards Pilate, such an accusation produced the opposite impression: he “was the more afraid” and, secluding himself with Jesus for several minutes, “from then on Pilate sought to release Him” (Jn. 19:8, 12). However, the Jews, experienced manipulators, knew how they could force Pilate to do what they wanted, and began to hint at the possibility of a denunciation: “If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend . . .” (v. 12). Pilate had to recognize the case as a legal action, perhaps as a case of lese-majeste, and he went up and sat in the judgement seat in the place called the Lithostroton (The Pavement); but, hoping to set the matter aright, with three words he destroyed Jesus Christ, crying out to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (Jn. 19:14). The procurator’s first exclamation, “Behold the Man!”, elicited sympathy and was not fatal for all the people; but in these words – “Behold, your King!” – they heard a contemptuous ridicule of their dream: See what I am doing and will do with every great king? Do you despicable people really dream of casting down our great power?!
“But they cried out: Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” (Jn. 19:15). This was already a general outcry, the cry of the people who were transferring the impotent hatred they felt for Pilate to the One Who, alone out of all of them, was able to prevent such a mockery; but inasmuch as He consented to such a thing, He submitted to it. Yet when Pilate, continuing to mock the people, said: “Shall I crucify your King?” (ibid.), it was not all the people, who in their rage were incapable of dissimulation, but only the chief priests, who excelled in it, who answered, We have no king but Caesar!” (ibid.). Here Pilate again detected a hint of a threat of denunciation, and gave the Savior over to be crucified. However, he did not deny himself the pleasure of wreaking his revenge one more time on the seditious Sanhedrin and the people, and composed in three languages an inscription offensive to them, which he had affixed to the instrument of execution; in vain did the chief priests ask him to change the text of the inscription. Pilate replied: “What I have written, I have written” (Jn. 19:22). Pilate probably did not stop to think that this inscription, irritating the national self-love of the Jews, would deprive them of their last impulses to sympathy and would incite them to new mockeries of the crucified Just One (Mk. 15:32).
This is what the centurion called the Lord when he saw His holy end, and all the people were touched, finally by a certain repentance and returned to their homes, “smote their breasts, and returned” (Lk. 23:48); but this already alarmed the enemies of Christ, and they were afraid that faith in Him Who raised up Lazarus from the dead would not cease with His death, and that if there was cause to believe in His resurrection, that that Faith would spread rapidly among the people. They therefore appeared before Pilate on the Sabbath, and asked permission to set a guard on Christ’s tomb for three days and to seal the stone with with their own seal.
But the Lord catches the wicked in their wickedness. They could not have done more to insure that the event of Christ’s resurrection would become as irrefutable as it did after the soldiers spread their lies, alleging that the body of Christ was stolen by the apostles while they were asleep. Can a sleeping man know what is happening around him? And would they have gone unpunished when, several years later, the sixteen soldiers who kept guard in prison over Peter when he was led out at night by the angel, were executed by Herod?
The inhabitants of Jerusalem placed no credence in the calumny of the Pharisees, and some fifty days after the resurrection of Christ thousands of them began to receive holy Baptism. And even those who decided not to go over to the new Faith treated its followers with reverent love, and especially the disciples of Christ. Apparently no one then believed that they could have stolen the body of their Teacher; they retained the love of all the people (Acts 2:48), and the Sanhedrin, fearing the people, decided not to detain Peter and John in prison after the healing of the lame man (Acts 4:21). The people continued to glorify the Apostles (Acts 5:13); but no outsider dared join them after God’s retribution fell upon Ananias and Sapphira, yet from the outlying cities they brought the sick, who were healed through the prayer of the Apostles (Acts 5: 16). Their enemies, the members of the Sanhedrin, were afraid, as we have already seen, that the people would stone them to death (v. 26).
Perhaps the joyous animation which filled the first Christians would have penetrated deeper and deeper into the Jewish milieu and diverted them from their fanatical revolutionary mood, but the perfid ious Pharisees managed to incline the inhabitants of the capital to believe that the Christians were enemies of the law of Moses and the temple. This began from the time of the Archdeacon Stephen, when “they suborned men, who said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders” (Acts 6:11-12), which resulted in the stoning of St. Stephen to death.
Enmity toward the Christians began rapidly to gather strength from the time gentiles began to associate with them and receive Baptism; and even more so when the Apostles Paul and Barnabas went to pagan lands to convert the heathen. The Jews even followed them there and waged an intensive war against Christianity; the latter broke out with particularly dreadful force after Paul’s return to Jerusalem after his third journey, when forty men vowed not to eat until they had slain him.
But let us return to the earthly life of the Lord Jesus and to the illegal trial to which He was subjected. It seems that everyone who reads this survey agrees that the reason for the hatred of the Jews for Him was first and foremost His lack of sympathy for the revolution they envisioned, and this revolutionary aspiration, which was weakened for a few days as a result of the resurrection of Lazarus, excited the malice of the Jews against Jesus when they saw Him in the robe of ridicule. Hence, the conclusion is inescapable: Jesus Christ was the victim of the Jewish revolution, appearing to be a counter-revolutionary in the eyes of the seditious. Of course, all of this took place as part of God’s providential plan. None of it would have happened if the Lord Himself had not wanted, in accordance with the pre-eternal Counsel, to ascend the Cross, as He even said of Himself (Jn. 10:17-18; 12:27, 32; Lk. 22:22; Mt. 26:54).
But to this basic and principal good reason for Christ’s sufferings must also be added the evil human means, such as the treachery of Judas, the envy and vengefulness of the chief priests and Pharisees, and finally, the revolutionary venture which they shared with the people, and which alienated the Jewish people from Christ, prompted them to hate and crucify their Savior, and which has even induced their progeny to remain in unbelief and enmity towards Him until our own times.
His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia was a famous 20th century hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, a renowned author and theologian and, upon emigrating from Russia, the founding First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (see full bio here).
Original text: Orthodox Life 1985 No. 4