Jesus Among the Religious and Political Groups of His Time

This is a companion piece to the last article I wrote and published: Why Did Jesus Pick on the Pharisees So Much? The former article was inspired by 40 years of observation that Jesus was harshly critical of the Pharisees. His treatment of them virtually jumped off the pages at me when I first read the Gospels in college.

The Pharisees, though, were only one of the influential groups of Jews in First Century Judea. We see some evidence of Jesus rubbing shoulders with the other groups, but not nearly as much as Jesus engaged the Pharisees.

We might be tempted to assume that the Pharisees were particularly wicked and sinful – far more, perhaps, than the other groups Jesus encountered, but that isn’t so. Jesus was most like the Pharisees, and they were most like him, in their theological leanings and in the social circles in which they operated.

For that reason, I focused in my last article on the question: why was he so harsh towards them? I could have asked: why didn’t he pick on the other groups more?

In this article, I will explore the other groups and the difference between them and the Pharisees. I will send a little time pondering Jesus and the twelve apostles in relation to these groups and, perhaps, provide some insight as it strikes me.

First Century Judea was broadly possessed by two groups: the Jews, of course, and the Romans. The Jews had long lived in this land that God promised their ancestor, Abraham, and the Romans were the newcomers, the recent conquerors in a long line of challengers to the Jewish occupation of the land.

The five Jewish groups represent a spectrum of relational attitudes towards the Romans and each other in their religious and not-so-religious observances, lifestyles and attitudes. I will tackle them in order of their relationship to the Romans and their religious orientation.

Continue reading “Jesus Among the Religious and Political Groups of His Time”

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said We Should Give to God the Things that Are God’s?

Having been created in the image of God, we bear the imprint of God, but we must still offer ourselves back to God if we are to be aligned with God.

The creation of Adam – Vatican Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy. Created by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

I took some interest in a Facebook post at Bible Archaeology[1] about the image of Tiberius Caesar on a Roman coin like the one Jesus referenced in Matthew 22:15-22.[2] Some scriptural references and back ground facts are the subject of my writing today.

The story is well-known. Some Jewish leaders challenged Jesus with the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

It was a ruse. They were trying put Jesus into the impossible position of aligning either with the Jews (against the Romans, losing credibility with them) or with the Romans (against the Jews, risking punishment for opposing Rome) on the issue of paying taxes.

Jesus famously asked for a coin, and then he asked whose image was imprinted on the coin. It was Caesar’s image, of course. Then Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Perhaps, my interest was piqued because I have written about the story before. I talk about rendering unto Caesar in the context of how Christians should respond to secular authority.[3] I wrote about Jordan Peterson’s comment, crediting the words of Jesus to the creation of the modern principal of the separation of church and state.[4] But I haven’t focused on what it is we are to “render” to God.

I am always excited to learn something new, and the Bible Archaeology post added some details I didn’t know. The first details provide the backstory to the story, which involves Judas the Galilean. The interrelationship of the two stories shows how intertwined, complex, nuanced and harmonious Scripture is within itself and with external facts discovered through historical and archaeological sources, among other things.

I appreciate the historians and archaeologists, like Bible Archaeology, that dig up corroborating details. In the Facebook post, they cite additional scriptural passages on Judas the Galilean that give us insight into why the Pharisees in Galilee challenged Jesus on the issue of paying taxes.

Continue reading “What Did Jesus Mean When He Said We Should Give to God the Things that Are God’s?”

Palm Sunday: the Prelude to the Crucifixion

Jesus didn’t live up to the expectations of the crowd who followed him, and, no longer believing he was the Messiah they had hoped for, they turned on him

Depositphotos Image ID: 14273029 Copyright: zatletic

Today is Palm Sunday. This is the day we celebrate the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into the City of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Many hundreds of thousands were gathered in Jerusalem for the coming Passover, and John tells us that the people were focused on Jesus because of crowd spreading the word that he had risen Lazarus from the dead just days before. (John 12:17-18 (“Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.”))

As Jesus entered the City, people lined the streets with palm branches, threw their cloaks on the road in front him, and venerated him with shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the king who come in the name of the Lord!”

This is Luke’s account:

As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:36-38)

And here is John’s account:

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)

As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, we know that story is about to take a very drastic, tragic turn for the worse. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is not the precursor to celebratory times, but the darkest of times. We should consider the incongruity that just days before Jesus was condemned by an angry crowd yelling, “Crucify him!”, he was hailed King of the Jews by an adoring crowd – and it was likely the same crowd!

What happened?

Continue reading “Palm Sunday: the Prelude to the Crucifixion”

Donald Trump, the Zealot

Trump has emerged as a chosen king, rallying the subjects to take over and displace the present occupiers.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore/Flickr


When Trump first announced his presidential intentions, it seemed to me like a reality show stunt. It was like a distraction from “the real the thing”, the serious business of presidential primaries that will determine the only choices that we have next November.

Now that Trump, the reality show candidate, is increasingly likely to become Trump, the presidential candidate, I have been unsure how to put it in perspective. Trump, the caricature, seems to be Trump, the real deal. Even as he polarizes people who are already quite polarized, he gains in popularity and delegates to the convention where he will likely be the “popular” choice.

I do not need to recount the number of ways that Trump has failed to exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The stories are now legion. The examples of mocking a disabled man, or cheering while people are forcibly removed from his audience or statements about punching people in the face are played over and over on social media like a parade of “fail” videos.

Meanwhile, Trump is not just polarizing the haves and have-nots and the Democrats and Republicans; he is polarizing Republicans and Republicans. More importantly, and more significantly, to me, Trump is polarizing Christians, even those who call themselves Evangelical Christians.

Continue reading “Donald Trump, the Zealot”

Your Kingdom Come

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“Your kingdom[*] come….” (Matt. 6:10) Jesus instructed his apostles, and therefore his followers, including us, to pray for God’s kingdom to come. That is a curious instruction, as many Jews at the time believed that the Messiah would overthrow the Roman occupation of Judea and return the land to Jewish rule. They were bitterly disappointed when that did not happen.

Did the disciples not pray hard enough? Did God fail to answer the prayer Jesus instructed them to pray? What does that mean for us today? We need to look back at the First Century for the answer. Continue reading “Your Kingdom Come”