Monday, March 25, 2013

The First Day in Jerusalem

What follows is my account of the first few hours following the Triumphal Entry. They were not in Jerusalem very long before they left, but those few hours were very significant (especially to John).

We had not anticipated the crowd. They slowed our progress so much that it was already afternoon by the time we actually made it into the city. Jesus dismounted once he entered the city, and we left the donkey at the gates with a man whom Jesus had healed the last time he was in Jerusalem. Some of us left, either to see friends or family or just to look around Jerusalem again. I followed Jesus closely as he walked through the city, leading the way straight to the temple, but he stopped so suddenly at the entrance that I nearly bumped into him. He was stiff, breathing heavily, and I looked around him to see–nothing out of the ordinary. There was a constant flow of people entering and exiting the Temple, and the merchants selling sacrificial offerings only added to the chaos of the courtyard. It was so loud, with the crowds and the merchants and the animals, that you could hardly hear yourself think. I looked at Jesus’ face, and followed his gaze—he was looking at the money-changers and the merchants. Then I remembered the first time we had been in Jerusalem, and what Jesus had done then.[1] But he did nothing like that here—after a few tense moments, he turned around, and we followed.
We walked in silence and let the noise of the crowd, the music, the shouting, the laughter, wash over us. I wondered how Jesus could not be cheerful here, in Jerusalem, at Passover. I wanted to ask, but as always, I could not. He would tell me, once again, that he would die here, and leave me, once again, confused. Luckily, I soon saw Andrew pushing his way towards us through the crowd, with Philip next to him. I pointed them out to Jesus, and we waited for them—when they arrived, Andrew was the first to speak.
“Lord,” he said, bowing slightly, “Some Greeks sought us out, saying they wanted to meet you. Should we bring them here?”
I had been listening to him as he talked, and when he was done I turned back to Jesus. His face had fallen again, and he did not say anything. He stood there, head bowed, face sorrowful, in silence. I looked at Philip and Andrew—they looked back at me, puzzled. I leaned back slightly to look at John and James, on the other side of Jesus—they did not know what was happening either. I was about to break the silence, ask the question again—perhaps he had not heard the first time—when Jesus spoke.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he said, but there was something about the way he said “glorified” that made me shiver. It did not sound like a happy occasion. He looked up at us, as we all grouped together to be before him, and the noise of the crowd washed over us as we waited.
“Truly, I tell you, that unless a grain of wheat falls and dies, it remains alone; but if it does die, it bears much fruit.” He spoke so suddenly, so passionately, that a few of us jumped at his voice. Jesus was practically shaking—he was moving his hands as he talked, and he began to pace, his voice going sometimes faster, sometimes slower. But he would always look back to us, seeing if we understood. We did not—but neither could we say anything. He spoke on.
“Whoever loves his life must lose it—but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Here his eyes came up, earnest and filled with pain, and my breath caught in my throat. Listen to me, his eyes said. “If anyone would serve me, he must follow me—and where I am, there my servant will be as well. And if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
He stopped pacing, stood still, head bowed once more, and the noise from the crowd filled the silence. More and more people were stopping to watch and listen to Jesus, and as they did they fell silent, as we were. We still could say nothing, could do nothing, either to comfort or respond. The question that had begun this talk was seemingly forgotten. After a short time, Jesus began again, lifting his head to look at us, and his voice was low and halting.
“Now I am troubled in my very soul,” he said. “What will I say? Will I call upon my Father and say, ‘Save me from this hour?’[2] But-” he raised his voice and threw up his hands, “But it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour! Father,” he cried, so loudly that almost everyone nearby stopped and turned towards him in surprise. “Glorify your name!”
And instantly there was the voice again, the voice we had heard on the mountain, loud, like thunder: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” And we fell to the ground, bowing, but before I did I saw Jesus smile, and when I looked up afterward he was standing straighter than he had been, shoulders back, head up towards heaven—it was as if he was basking in his Father’s voice.
We knew what we had heard. The crowd, though, the people around us, seemed to think it was thunder—some said it was an angel, but they had not understood the words. We had, but as we raised ourselves up, Jesus gave us no chance to question him, but spoke, loudly, to both us and everyone else listening to him.
“The voice has come for your sake, not mine,” he said. “Now is the judgment of this world: now will the ruler of this world be cast out! And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The people did not like this. There was muttering, which quickly grew to shouting, and one, in the front, stepped forward and said, “The Law says that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man will be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” We looked at each other silently—we had some of the same questions. The Christ was supposed to remain forever. We knew that Jesus was the Christ. Why, then, did he always say that he would die here?
Jesus sighed and seemed to shrink. His face lost the glow it had had after the voice spoke from heaven. “The light is with you for a little while longer,” he said sadly, and the crowd grew quiet to hear him speak. “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” As he spoke, he grew louder and more forceful. “He who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light!” And with that he turned, walking quickly through the streets towards the gate, and we followed. It was getting late, and without a word he led us back out of the city, through the gates, over the Mount of Olives, and back to Bethany. There were no more crowds, and the few stragglers still coming into the city did not even notice us.
We talked among ourselves as we walked, several paces behind Jesus. What had happened? The day had begun so well—the whole city had supported Jesus, and the Pharisees could do nothing to him. But it was as though Jesus did not even see any of it—or if he did see it, it only made him sadder. The city made him sad. The temple made him angry. What was supposed to be a celebration was, instead, only making Jesus more and more depressed. He did not say anything, even after we got back to Bethany. We ate in silence, and he went outside to pray, and we went to bed.

[1]Lenski (Matthew 812) advises against conflating the cleansing of the temple recorded in John 2:13-22 with the cleansing recorded in Luke 19:45-47, Matthew 21:12-16, and Mark 11:15-18. Religious authorities challenge him in John’s narrative, but not in the synoptics. The wording and tone differs between John and the synoptics, and in John the words are Christ’s own, whereas in the synoptics he quotes scripture. MacArthur (Matthew16-23 267) and Hendriksen (Matthew 769) say the same. Given the weight of evidence and opinion, I have treated them as two separate events.
[2]Scholarly opinion varies regarding this passage. Lenski (John) states that the “What shall I say?” of John 12:27 is continued in the next sentence: “(Shall I say) ‘Father, save me from this hour?”, with the implied answer of, “No, because this is what I came for.” (869). However, Hendriksen (John) sees the first (What shall I say) as a question and the second (Father, save me from this hour) as a direct request, (199) seeing it as analogous to the plea of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36). The structure of the sentence, especially the “but” of the following sentence, leads me to accept Lenski’s interpretation over Hendriksen's. Christ is afraid of what is to come, and he certainly wishes that things could be otherwise: nonetheless, he remembers his purpose. He recognizes the possibility of calling to his Father, he may even be contemplating it: but he does no more than that, for he recognizes that to do so would be in direct contrast to what he knows his purpose to be.

As you follow Peter through the story we've all heard so many times, remember that to him and the rest of the disciples, there was no surety of the resurrection, no comfort in the promises of God--only mysterious words and incoherent outbreaks from the one they had staked their hopes and even their very lives on. They didn't understand, and indeed, coming from their background, it's hard to blame them.

If you enjoyed this, feel free to look at the second cleansing of the temple here.

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

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