Jesus The Christ's Greatest Enemies Were Religious Leaders
“He knew it was through sheer spite that they had turned Jesus over to him.” ~ Matthew 27:18, MSG
There have been many spiteful people who have used the 1960s’ “check yourself before you wreck yourself” secular adage in an intimidating way; that is, these malicious bullies have used the mentioned worldly-wise saying largely to scare truth presenters to the point that they stop speaking truthfully about these malicious bullies. Those truth presenters who didn’t stop what they were saying were promised a beatdown (a severe beating), which these vicious bullies invariably carried out. Notwithstanding this tough-guy style of censorship meaning, the intended gist of this “check yourself before you wreck yourself” old adage does not mean to intimidate the innocent. On the contrary, this wise saying is meant to warn the guilty.
As a warning to the guilty, the worldly-wise saying of “check yourself before you wreck yourself” suggests: You need to examine your decisions and actions, because what you said or did has put you in a presumably precarious position or a destructive predicament. More important, if you continue to say or do the same things, then you can expect serious trouble from your foolish decisions and actions. In essence, if you do not change your reckless ways, then you surely will reap what you sow!
Now it is possible that this “check yourself before you wreck yourself” old adage could be at least 2,000 years old, because this maxim’s true meaning certainly is what Pilate repeatedly implies every time he succeeds in keeping the Jewish religious leaders from achieving their goal of handing Jesus the Christ over to him for him to crucify. Moreover, this same maxim clearly is implied in the message Pilate’s unnamed wife sends to him. In her message, she is warning Pilate not to crucify Jesus because He is an innocent man. She warns Pilate, because in a dream she apparently received some hints about the terrible consequences that will come upon Pilate, perhaps even his family members, but no doubt the Jewish nation as a whole, if Pilate were to give in to the Jewish religious leaders’ demand to crucify Jesus the Christ. The author of the book of Matthew confirms the wife of Pilate’s disturbing dream and the subsequent warning, for the author writes:
While Pilate was sitting there on the judge’s seat, his wife sent this message to him: ‘Don’t do anything to that man, because he is innocent. Today I had a dream about him, and it troubled me very much.’ ~ Matthew 27:19, NCV
Concerning dreams, the Holy Bible is replete with examples of Greeks, Romans, and even Jews (God’s chosen people) who believe that dreams often represent a divine will. Additionally, the Holy Bible also depicts these same Greeks, Romans, and Jews trusting that their dreams and the interpretations of their dreams are meant to guide them in their daily living. For these reasons, there can be no doubt that God has many ways of “checking” (examining) non-believers and believers’ sinful behaviors, and there can be no doubt that God’s “checks” could come directly from Him in the forms of dreams and visions, or prick consciences, or revelatory intuitions, or even indirectly like through the lips of loyal friends and family members.
Therefore, where the wife of Pilate, Pilate, Judas, and even the Jewish religious leaders who plotted against Jesus the Christ are concerned, what is undeniably divinely true in each of their cases is that God can use any way He wants to get anybody He wants to testify to His Son’s innocence. In other words, this Divine Truth about God having numerous approaches He can use to “check” non-believers and believers’ sinful behaviors is apparent in the lives of the Jewish religious leaders, Judas, Pilate, and Pilate’s wife. For sure, God’s varied “checks” are behind Him using these mentioned people to fulfill His Divine Will of declaring Jesus the Christ’s innocence to the entire world. Put differently, there is no doubt about God’s design—the way God chose to inform the world about His Son’s enemies, the Jewish religious leaders, who sought to crucify Jesus the Christ NOT because He was guilty of committing any sin or wrongdoing, but because these religious leaders’ were guilty of promoting their own self-interest.
Thus, to fulfill His Divine Will, God has a disloyal Judas’ guilty conscience move him not only to return the Jewish religious leader’s bribery (30 pieces of silver) but also to testify to them about Jesus’ innocence (cf. Matthew 27:3-4). Likewise, God uses Pilate, who has the power and authority of a Roman judge, to reveal to these same Jewish religious leaders that his intuition not only has informed him that Jesus the Christ is an innocent man but also that their spiteful, envious, and jealous behaviors are behind their demand that he (Pilate) crucifies Jesus the Christ. In fact, their self-interests (their spite for and envy/jealousy of Jesus the Christ) are the reasons why these Jewish religious leaders convince the mob to choose to release Barabbas, a proven criminal of both Rome and Israel, instead of convincing this crowd to choose to release Jesus the Christ, an unproven criminal of either Rome or Israel (cf. Matthew 27:12-18, 20-25). Then too, God even has Pilate’s wife testify to Jesus’ innocence, which was revealed to her in a dream (cf. Matthew 27:19).
The point here is that no matter the source of this God-designed “checking” (examining), which means His chosen source of either a dream, or a vision, or an intuition, or a conscience, or a family or friend isn’t the issue, for the Divine Truth is that if unbelievers would HEAR the “checking” (respond appropriately to what God is saying to them, because what He’s speaking is meant to stop them from yielding to the temptation to sin), then God’s mercy and grace could be extended to them so that they could be saved from destroying themselves. Unfortunately, not only unbelievers but also believers tend to respond inappropriately to God’s “checking,” and as a result many believers also end up wrecking (destroying) themselves.
In Judas’ case, as a follower of Jesus the Christ who did not respond appropriately to Jesus the Christ’s leadership, it appears that he betrayed the Lord out of spite, primarily because the Lord constantly had refused to function as the political and militaristic Messiah-King that Judas, the Jewish religious leaders, and the nation of Israel, as a whole, had been promised. In other words, Judas betrayed Jesus the Christ, because he believed that the Lord betrayed him by not being the kind of Messiah-King that He apparently had the potential to become. Be that as it may, when Judas realized that the same Jewish religious leaders who bribed him also had condemned Jesus the Christ to death, Judas’ genuine remorse for his betrayal kicked in; as a result, as previously mentioned, he went back to these religious leaders, the ones who paid him to betray Jesus, and not only confessed his sins to these Temple priests, interpreters, teachers, and observers of the Law, and other Jewish elites, but also avowed to them that Jesus the Christ was an innocent man. When they would not hear him, but rather mocked him, the guilt that Judas felt from his betrayal and his inability to set things right no doubt caused him to hang himself.
Now these Jewish religious leaders’ inappropriate response to Judas’ confession of sin and his protestations about his Lord’s’ innocence only showed how much these religious elites were not concerned that Judas had realized he had sinned against the Lord and thus needed to repent of his decisions that were going to guarantee that Jesus the Christ’s blood eternally would be on his hands. Moreover, instead of these Jewish religious elites realizing that they too had sinned against Jesus the Christ by condemning an innocent man to death, their self-interests of spite, envy, and jealousy caused them to decide to assuage their guilt by using the returned “blood money” to purchase a potter’s field. Then, after making the potter’s field decision, they proceeded to escort Jesus the Christ, early in the morning hours, from the Temple to Pilate’s home, where they demanded that he crucify Jesus. Furthermore, while the New Testament does not directly tell what happened to these Jewish religious leaders who were responsible for Jesus’ death, Acts 4:5-12 and verse 18 do suggest that after His crucifixion the Jewish religious leaders responsible for Jesus the Christ’s death continued to reject the Lord as the Son of God and Savior of the world!
In Pilate’s case, because he neither responded appropriately to his own sense of the Lord’s innocence nor his wife’s message, he gave in to the Jewish religious leaders’ demands to have Jesus crucified instead of protecting the innocent Jesus the Christ. Indeed, because he feared what would happen to his political career if the growing mob began to riot, more than he feared punishing an innocent man, and/or more than he feared his wife’s disturbing dream, he chose to sentence an innocent man to the cruelest kind of death. Therefore, because Pilate sacrificed Jesus the Christ to preserve Roman rule and his own career, Pilate’s fate, according to Eusebius Pamphili, the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, the “Father of Church History,” and author of Church History, writes in Book II and Chapter 7 that Pilate also committed suicide. His suicide happened some time shortly after the Lord’s crucifixion and after Pilate was recalled to Rome to be tried for his brutal treatment of the Jews in Samaria.
So then, for today’s believers, it is important for us not only to realize the wisdom in the “check yourself before you wreck yourself” secular maxim, but also it is important for us to understand the principle the Lord teaches in His wise biblical saying: “A person’s enemies will be members of his own family” (Matthew 10:36, NCV; cf. Micah 7:6). For sure, the Lord’s greatest enemies were the Jewish religious leaders—the Temple (House of the Lord) high priests, important Jewish elders, and members of the Sanhedrin Court (Pharisees/Scribes and Sadducees). Certainly these religious leaders were Jesus the Christ’s greatest enemies, especially since these individuals were guilty of allowing their envy, jealousy, and spite to be the impure motives for why they maliciously condemned Him to death.
Because of Jesus the Christ’s public humiliating yet righteous accusations and condemnations of His enemies, specifically the Pharisees, these Jewish religious leaders along with other Jewish elites plotted together to find any fault in Jesus the Christ that they could use to have Him killed (cf. Matthew 12:14; Matthew 26:4). Consequently, when He was brought before the Sanhedrin Court, the Lord’s greatest enemies had premeditated that they would seek false testimonies against Him, an innocent man, so that they ultimately could sentence Him to death (cf. Matthew 26:59-61; Matthew 27:1). Indeed, their promised Messiah-King, Jesus the Christ, prophesies that,
The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the Jewish elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of the law. He will be killed and after three days will be raised from the dead. ~ Luke 9:22, NCV
Definitely history has shown that from the time of Jesus the Christ until our current day, where organized “religion” has been concerned, genuine followers of Jesus the Christ’s greatest enemies have been the “institutional” church’s religious elites who, while full of their own self-interest, no matter whether that self-interest is envy, jealousy, spite, fear, or pride, heartlessly have attempted to judge others without ever first judging themselves. The bottom line is that wherever there is any kind of spiritual superiority there also will be people who condescendingly and hypocritically judge others in harsher ways than they judge themselves. What makes this kind of judgment belittling and two-faced is the fact that too often the religious leaders who think they are the religious elite have behaved far worse than the people they are judging harshly. These hypocrites, thus, are the ones who truly need to examine their decisions and actions—their condescending and hypocritical judgments—because if they do not “check” (examine) themselves, then they surely are going to wreck themselves.
Unfortunately, too many religious leaders, from Christ’s day until today, neither examine themselves nor respond appropriately to God’s “checks” (His ways of examining sinful behaviors) before they judge others. Indeed, too often the religious leaders who are teaching or preaching against adultery, or theft, or idol worship, or other sins, are guilty of committing adultery, or theft, or idol worship, or other sins while they are judging others by contemptuously mistreating, mocking, and/or discriminating against believers who only have committed some unintentional or trivial offenses. This kind of hypocritical judgment is addressed in the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul writes:
What about you? …You trust in the law of Moses and brag that you are close to God. You know what he wants you to do and what is important, because you have learned the law. You think you are a guide for the blind and a light for those who are in darkness. You think you can show foolish people what is right and teach those who know nothing. You have the law; so you think you know everything and have all truth. You teach others, so why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but you steal. You say that others must not take part in adultery, but you are guilty of that sin. You hate idols, but you steal from temples. You brag about having God’s law, but you bring shame to God by breaking his law. ~ Romans 2:17, 19-23, NCV (cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20)
At the heart of this brand of hypocrisy (perceived spiritual superiority that actually is corruption) is the fact that the “institutional” church’s traditionally established positions of power eventually cause the self-interests (envy, jealousy, spite, fear, pride, and so forth) that become corruption’s starting points. In other words, where the Christian lifestyle is concerned, envious, jealous, spiteful, fearful, prideful and/or territorial pastors, Sunday School teachers, worship leaders, and so on, have elevated themselves to the positions of exclusive spokespersons. In addition to appointing themselves as the ONLY ones who know and therefore should be the ONLY ones who teach or preach God’s Word to “church” members, these individuals make sure that they let each “church” member know that he or she attends worship services and Sunday School classes not for the purpose of participating in discussions about these “spiritual” leaders’ personal interpretations of Scriptures but rather so that each member can be lectured to by these often dictatorial men and women.
Furthermore, as dictatorial “spiritual” leaders, these men and women do not encourage feedback or criticism, mainly because they do not respond well to feedback or criticism. Put differently, as a result of institutionalism, the earlier mentioned traditional “church” positions of power have become corrupt. Perhaps another wise saying by a well-known historian, politician, and writer best describes this brand of hypocrisy (perceived spiritual superiority that actually is corruption):
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. ~ John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
Without a doubt, there are many believers, especially those professed Christians who are religious leaders, who never “check themselves before they wreck themselves.” Without a doubt, there also are many condescending and hypocritical religious leaders and laity in the “institutional” church who are the greatest enemies of the household of faith’s sons and daughters. For these reasons, authentic believers, those Christians who not only profess that they believe in Christ but also make every effort to live just like their Lord lived, should not be surprised when the greatest source of hostility against them comes from the “institutional” church’s attendees, which in most cases includes religious, political, and cultural leaders, or those who think of themselves as the religious, political, and cultural elite.
This hostility (persecution) that comes from the “institutional” church’s laypersons and religious leaders, who think of themselves as being the “institutional” church’s religious, political, and cultural elite, is a harsh reality for worldwide believers. However, instead of being shaken by laypersons and religious leaders’ hostility (persecution), true believers must realize that it shouldn’t matter if this hostility (persecution) manifests itself in life-threatening situations, like the kind of persecution Jesus the Christ and the early ekkelsia down to the current day global ekkelsia have had to face. Neither should it matter if the previously mentioned hostility manifests itself in various forms of condescending abuses, mockeries, and prejudices, like the kind of persecution, for example, many American Christians often have had to face.
What should matter is the bottom line, which is that in spite of the kind of persecution any believers suffer, and regardless if this hostility (persecution) comes from laypersons, religious leaders, or non-believers, the Divine Truth is that authentic believers can trust that God has many ways of “checking” (examining) non-believers and believers’ sinful behaviors. Indeed, in order to keep self-interests (envy, jealousy, spite, fear, pride, and etcetera) from raising their ugly heads in Christ-like believers who are being indescribably tortured, brutally murdered, or condescendingly mistreated, mocked, and/or discriminated against, God uses many sources when He is “checking” (examining) sinful behaviors, and those sources include but are not limited to dreams, visions, consciences, intuitions, and loyal friends and family members. This “checking” is why God absolutely expects His born again, saved, and full of the Holy Spirit children not only to remember that He uses various “checks” to warn both the persecutors and the persecutees that they are dangerously close to wrecking themselves but also to know that He specifically counts on His persecuted Christ-like believers to first hear what He is saying through the sources He uses for His “checks” and then respond appropriately.
Once again, the point here is that only when either non-believers or Christ-like believers HEAR God’s “checking” (respond appropriately to what He is saying to them, because they know that what He’s speaking is meant to stop them from yielding to the temptation to sin), will they then be able to make the right decision(s) to avoid wrecking (destroying) themselves. For sure, wrecking themselves is the end result for the people who decide to ignore God’s “checking,” refuse to accept the fact that they need to examine their own motives for their sinful behaviors that often immediately follow their choice to proceed with their own self-interests!
Put differently, the right response born again, saved, and full of the Holy Spirit believers are expected to give to God’s “checks,” especially when they are being persecuted, is the response Jesus the Christ gave. In essence, true believers MUST remain faithful unto death, if they ever hope to receive their crown of life. As John the Revelator writes:
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer for ten days. But be faithful, even if you have to die, and I will give you the crown of life. ~ Revelation 2:10, NCV
Without a doubt, God’s Divine Truth, which He soberly expresses in the above verse, is that regardless of the frequency, abundance, or severity of His children’s afflictions, authentic believers’ sufferings and hardships in this life will be relatively brief, which is what the 10 days in the above verse signify (cf. Genesis 24:55; Genesis 31:7, 41; Numbers 14:22; 1 Samuel 25:38; Nehemiah 4:12; Job 19:3; Daniel 1:12, 14, 20). Now sometimes the shortness of the frequency, abundance, and severity of their sufferings might suggest that death is imminent. However, in the above verse, God is promising His children that the shortness of the frequency, abundance, and severity of their sufferings just means that each one of their sufferings soon would end!
Furthermore, for the purpose of helping His children cope with their relatively brief afflictions, God also has given them the Hope of Glory, which is that supernatural HOPE God has placed in them for them to know that they know that they know they will receive all of their promised eternal rewards in Heaven, including their crown of life. This HOPE, thus, is an incentive for them to remain faithful unto death, even if they do not die from the frequent, abundant, or severe afflictions. Therefore, while they are enduring their earthly persecutions, including those sufferings that result from religious leaders and laypersons’ corruption of the “institutional” church’s established positions of power that these great enemies hold, God wants His true children to let their HOPE of GLORY and their trust in God’s ways of “checking”—the ways He examines them, or causes them to examine themselves, meaning their own motives—be what keeps them from complaining, worrying, or, more important, giving in to the temptation to allow any sinful self-interest to move them to respond to their sufferings in sinful ways that could lead to their own ruin (i.e., wrecking or destroying themselves).
Let the redeemed of the Lord say Amen, and say amen again!