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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
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.
Duane Caldwell | April 3, 2021
2. Leon, Morris, in his commentary on John mentions the reference in
Josephus, which can be found in: