Not God

The Jewish religious leaders did everything they could to make it seem as though Jesus was not God. One of the ways the Pharisees tried to discredit him was to say that Jesus performed miracles by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:24). In one of Jesus’ final confrontations with these men, it says in Matthew 21:23, “when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” The reason they asked Jesus these questions was because they thought he would disclose his identity and they could arrested for claiming to be God. Instead, Jesus answered them:

“I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV)

The chief priests and elders unwillingness to acknowledge the authenticity of John’s baptism suggests that their claim that Jesus was not God had nothing to do with their belief, but it was merely a means for them to get rid of him. Jesus used the parable of the husbandmen to point out that the religious leaders were intent on killing him (Matthew 21:33-39). In his parable, Jesus said after the husbandmen had beaten and killed the householder’s servants, “Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matthew 21:37-38). Afterward, Jesus declared:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Matthew 21:42-44, ESV)

Luke recorded in his gospel that the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus immediately after hearing this. He said, “And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them” (Luke 20:19). Based on Luke’s statement, it seems unlikely that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they believed he was not God. At this point, they probably wanted to kill him because they knew that he was.

An advantage

The chief priests and the Pharisees saw an advantage to having Jesus die for the Jewish nation (John 11:50). They may have thought they could turn the tide in their political future by demonstrating their loyalty to Rome. After they heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, “Then gathered the chief priests and the 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 shall come and take away both our place and our nation…Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death” (John 11:47-48, 53). It was in the winter of A.D. 29 that Jesus was no longer able to “walk openly” among the Jews and had to retreat to a city near the wilderness (John 11:54). Although he knew his death was imminent, Jesus probably wanted to protect his disciples from what was going on in Jerusalem until it was his appointed time to die.

It seems logical that the Jews were ready to kill Jesus even before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All the accounts of what happened showed there was an ongoing plot to kill Jesus long before he was arrested and put on trial. There was most likely a concerted effort to take Jesus into custody for at least a few weeks and possibly as much as two to three months. It says in John 11:57, “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.” One of the things that was an advantage for Jesus during this time was that the people loved him and his miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was fresh in their minds. The only way the religious leaders were eventually able to capture Jesus was by turning one of his own disciples against him.

Weather forecast

One of the ongoing challenges Jesus had to deal with during his ministry was conflict with the religious leaders that influenced God’s people. Jesus had very little of what we refer to today as positional authority. In essence, Jesus was a nobody that arrived on the scene and gathered a huge following in a relatively short period of time. No one knew for certain that Jesus was God, except for the many miraculous things he did, many of which had never been seen before. Jesus could have done more to convince people of who he was, but it was apparently not God’s will for his identity to be completely revealed until after he had been resurrected from the dead.

In an attempt to get Jesus to prove that he was the Jew’s Messiah, Matthew tells us that the Pharisees and Sadducees “came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Matthew’s reference to tempting suggested that the Pharisees and Sadducees were working as agents of Satan and were attempting to get Jesus to go against his Father’s will by making a spectacle of himself in order to prove that he was without a doubt the savior of the world. Jesus’ response to their request showed that he was aware of their motives and had intentionally refused to appease them in spite of their ability to discredit him. Matthew reported:

He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: for the sky is red, and in the morning, it will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. (Matthew 16:2-4)

Jesus used the example of weather forecasting to show that the Pharisees and Sadducees were only pretending to not know who he was. The many miracles Jesus performed were adequate evidence of his divine character and authority. There had even been a previous occasion when God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The issue that was really as stake was whether or not Jesus would act according to the will of Satan or according to will of God, his heavenly Father. Matthew said of Jesus, “And he left them, and departed” (Matthew 16:4). In other words, Jesus just walked away without saying anything further to them.