Continued from Part 6
Jesus’ popularity in review:
Do the Gospel’s describe Jesus as a person who “was despised and rejected,” or from whom people fled? The words: “He was despised and rejected of men … and as one from whom men hide their faces … and we esteemed him not” cannot be applied to Jesus if one is to believe the Gospel narratives.
The Gospels claim that Jesus enjoyed widespread popularity during his lifetime among all classes of society. The evangelists report that the chief priests and the scribes sought to take Jesus “by craft” but, as we have seen, not during the festival because they feared a popular demonstration against them if the people learned of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:1-2). Mark has these plans for the arrest of Jesus take place two days before Passover: “After two days was the Passover and Unleavened Bread” (Mark 14:1). Hence, very shortly before his death, we are told, Jesus’ enemies expressed fear of the wrath of the people if they should arrest him.
The Gospels claim that even just before the end of his life, Jesus had a significant following among all social classes. According to the Gospel narratives, the Jewish leaders had been cautiously avoiding involvement of the Jewish masses in the scheme to execute Jesus (Matthew 21:46, Mark 14:1-2, Luke 22:2). It is claimed that the Jewish masses were favorably impressed with the “prophet” Jesus (Matthew 21:11, 46; Mark 6:15; Luke 7:16; John 6:14).
Modern-day Christians contend that the masses turned against Jesus, but is this what the Gospels teach. The Gospels claim that the Jewish leaders feared that the one prisoner whom the crowd would want Pilate to release during his annual amnesty would be Jesus (Matthew 27:15, Mark 15:6, Luke 23:17, John 18:39). The Gospels maintain that Pilate discounted the seriousness of the charges brought against Jesus because he knew that the Jewish leaders sought his death out of envy (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10). Therefore, he sought a way to release the innocent Jesus rather than the guilty Barabbas (Luke 23:20, John 19:12).
Desperate, because of Pilate’s maneuver to release Jesus (Matthew 27:22-23; Mark 15:9, 14; Luke 23:20, 22; John 19:4, 12) the Jewish leaders supposedly felt compelled to sway the Jewish crowd against the extremely popular Jesus. The “chief priests and elders” allegedly attempted to persuade not only Pilate (Matthew 27:12-13; Mark 15:1-3; Luke 23:2, 5, 14; John 18:30-31, 19:6-7, 12) but a crowd of their own people that Jesus should be executed (Matthew 27:20, Mark 15:11).
But, how large a crowd could possibly have gathered outside the judgment hall? Even if we accept that a crowd actually stood there in the middle of the night (just as the seder was being conducted in homes throughout Jerusalem) demanding that Pilate execute Jesus (Matthew 27:22; Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21, 23; John 18:39-40), it must have constituted only an extremely small fraction of the people then in Jerusalem. In this alleged incident, the evangelists have distorted developments in order to condemn the entire Jewish people for their rejection of the messianic pretensions of Jesus.
Contrary to this report of rejection, the major thrust of their writings argues for popular support, not only in the country as a whole, but even in those last hours in Jerusalem itself (Luke 23:27). Primarily we see how the Gospel narratives insist on a strong unwavering following for Jesus even as he was being crucified.
Christian theological needs
The argument that Jesus died without any significant following is an argument necessitated by the theological need to have Jesus’ life conform to their concept of the servant. But the Gospels argue that Jesus had a significant following among the well-born as well as among the common people even at the time of his crucifixion. This faithful following, we are told, was not composed of ignorant masses following a mere miracle-working prophet. The Gospels allege that the masses adhered to a messianic belief that Jesus, who was believed to be the son of David (Matthew 9:27), was not only the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15 (John 7:40), but was in fact, the very Messiah himself (John 7:41). Even though there was a division among the crowd over who Jesus was (John 7:43), and many of his disciples left him (John 6:66), the assumption to be drawn from the Gospels’ silence is that thousands of people throughout the country still believed in him as the Messiah at the time of the crucifixion.
It should be noted that according to the Gospel narratives, the general Jewish populace did not have occasion to directly reject Jesus’ messianic assertions since he had not openly claimed to be the Messiah (Matthew 16:20, Mark 8:29-30, Luke 9:20-21). To whatever reason one may attribute the description of Jesus’ large following, the fact still remains that the Gospels insist the members of the various classes of society did not generally reject him.
On all accounts, there is little resemblance between the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels and the life of the servant as depicted by Isaiah 53. There is only one logical conclusion to be drawn and that is that Jesus is not the servant portrayed by Isaiah.