A resurrection day meditation
In the palm Sunday service this past Sunday, the pastor at my church mentioned that “the great crowd” (John 12.12) that had come out to see Jesus was huge. He mentioned it was likely multiple tens of thousand of people, something I hadn’t considered before. That’s a staggering number. So like a good Berean (Acts 17.11), I got out my Bible history to check.
Sure enough, in “Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus” in an excursus on the number of visitors to Jerusalem during the Passover, Bible historian Jeremias summarizes:
“Thus we can take the number of the participants in the whole feast as 18,000 x 10 = 180,000. If we subtract from that the approximately 55,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem, this gives us a total of about 125,000 pilgrims. We shall probably not have to increase or decrease that number by more than half.”
Considering that the historian Josephus, who lived in the first century (so much closer in time to the events than the 20th century Jeremias) estimated the Passover crowd at over 2,700,000 we’re probably safe with keeping the 125,000 number. So indeed, there were likely multiple tens of thousands of people who were cheering on Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem during what is now called the Triumphal Entry.
That, to my mind, is in stark contrast to the number to whom Jesus revealed himself after the resurrection. We’re led to believe it’s less than a thousand people by the creedal resurrection passage:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
1 Cor 15. 3-8
The apostle is apparently not including the women (he appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16.9) and who knows how many other women); and it appears that since he is giving a sequential list of appearances, the “all the apostles” of v.7 is a different group from the original 12 disciples (v.5). So even if we triple number, we still likely have less than 2,500 people Jesus appeared to after the resurrection. This, to my mind, is in stark contrast to the multiple tens of thousands who were there to witness the triumphal entry, many shouting his praises. Why were there so few?
I am aware of the well-rehearsed reasons why Jesus was in large part rejected by the Jews of his day:
First, they were expecting a conquering messiah to overthrow Rome, not a suffering messiah to die for their sins. So he didn’t do what they wanted or expected.
Second, not all will believe:
- The road is narrow Matt 7.14
- Many are invited but few are chosen (Matt 22.14)
- Those not truly working with Jesus are working against him (Matt 12.30)
- The seed can only grow on good soil (Matt 18.3-23)
There are more like these. All are sayings or parables that point to the fact that, contrary to the profession of many (Matt 7.21), the number of people who truly respond to Jesus (in spirit and in truth as the father desires (John 4.24)) is small, not large. So my question is why?
If the resurrection was one of the greatest miracles and proofs of the deity and authority of Jesus (and it is Rom 1.4) why don’t more people respond? If God was pleased to show the miracle of the parting of the waters to the millions who crossed it during the Exodus, why not show the resurrection to millions of people of Jesus’ day?
The last question is again easy. We know even though most of the people who saw the mighty miracles of the Exodus, still they did not trust God. As Paul said “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” (1 Cor 10.5) And that was due to their rebellion. Or as the Lord told Moses while still in the wilderness, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” Num 14.11
Which brings us to a point I’ve made previously: If you are not already prepared to believe, neither miracles nor evidence will not help you believe. Thus the article “Evidence (miracles) is for Believers, not Mockers” I wrote a few years back. But the question I want to examine today is the former: Why don’t many people respond – even to great miracles?
I was considering Pilate, the governor, as I pondered these questions while reading through the account of the trials before the crucifixion. Clearly a sharp man, Pilate was. He was not easily fooled. He knew that:
- Jesus was innocent (Matt 27.23, John 19.4)
- The Jews had handed Jesus over to him out of envy (Matt 27.18)
- That Jesus was in fact a king (John 18.37)
- Had reason to suspect he was in fact associated with God (giver of dreams) (Matt 27.19; compare Dan 2.28; John 19.7 – not to mention the charge against Jesus was he claimed to be the Son of God.)
Yet what Pilate couldn’t see was that Jesus was not just a king. He was the King – of kings. We know Pilate totally missed that point because he consistently called Jesus “your King” – meaning Jesus was merely the king of the Jews, – which is also what he put on the inscription over the cross – Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews” (John 19.19), not king over Rome, certainly not king over Pilate.
Nor could Pilate recognize that the embodiment of truth was standing before him. When Jesus said he came to testify to the truth (John 18.37), if Chuck Colson’s take is correct, Pilate’s response “What is truth?” (John 18.38) was not a deep philosophical question. It was a cynical sneer. Watch:
In Pilate’s case the reasons for rejection seem obvious. Pilate was:
- Powerful and arrogant (He didn’t need help from God.)
- Pagan (Didn’t know anything about the Jewish God who is God over all, and didn’t care.)
- Cynical (Didn’t care about things like “truth.”)
- Interested in political expediency, not religious or philosophical truth.
- Clearly he felt like there was nothing that Jesus could give him.
So what type of person is worthy to be a witness to the resurrection? Of course for those on this side of the resurrection, we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5.7) But the principles are the same. And the principles that immediately came to mind were those in the beatitudes. They are in sharp contrast to the likes of Pilate. You only need to go through a few to get a picture of the type of person worthy of the kingdom of God, and thus worthy of a resurrection appearance. In contrast, Pilate was clearly a man not worthy of a resurrection appearance. The question is, how many ordinary people – both then and today – are like him? The beatitudes (Matt 5.3-12) seem to tell us that most fall short, or are not ready for the revelation of the true nature of Jesus.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Who are the poor in Spirit? Those who have nothing in this world. Not just lack of money. But lack of everything this world offers: Pride – of self, power, position, authority; lacking arrogance and cynicism. The poor in spirit also are lacking in disbelief – and so able are to believe like a child. Childlike belief is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom. (Matt 18.3)
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Who are those who mourn? Those broken over the evil in this sin stained world. Those who long for the King of Righteousness and his kingdom. Of course if you live in a king’s or governor’s palace you probably don’t mourn over much nor long for much besides, perhaps, more power and more money.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
A governor, a Roman commander of thousands meek? Hardly.
Remember for Pilate, Jesus was “your king.” As far as Pilate was concerned, Jesus had nothing to do with Rome, had no authority over Pilate, and had no significance beyond the Jews. Of that Pilate was confident. How else can you give the King of kings; Son of God; King of Righteousness and Glory over to be crucified? Even if you make a show of washing your hands of your guilt in doing so? (Matt 27.24)
How many think that today? That Jesus has nothing to do with them? That Jesus is the religious figure for some other people? He is “your king” or “your God.” Clearly it takes meekness and humility to break down that barrier to acknowledge that Jesus is no mere religious figure only for the Jews. He’s the Risen Savior of the entire world.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Do you burn inside because of all the evil in this world? The murders, thefts, corruption, cruelty. The people who lie to your face and stab you in the back? Can’t want to see it all gone? For those who are truly longing for this, they are blessed, for the day is coming when, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Mal 4.2)
In all that God does, there is a reason. There was a reason Jesus was revealed to the few, and not to the tens of thousands of the multitude. I leave the remaining beatitudes to your own meditation, to consider why it was likely that only people with at least some of these qualities were given the privilege of seeing the risen Messiah. Consider particularly verse 8.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
1. Joachim Jeremias, “Jerusalem In the Time of Jesus“, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962, p. 83
2. Leon, Morris, in his commentary on John mentions the reference in Josephus, which can be found in:
Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Chapter 9, section 3 (425)
(In the 1988 Hendrickson publication, p. 749)