“So that in this spiritual warfare we do not contend like the warriors of this world for a triumphal wreath that will wither upon our brows, or for fame and renown which is nothing but the breath of a company of talking people, or for the enlarging of our empire over the next handful of turf; but we are contending with enemies that are pursuing us to Hell, and binding us in chains of everlasting darkness.”
John Scott, Christian Life (1683)
I am picking my way through John’s gospel and in this morning’s portion read the account of Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles. I have since been chewing rather sourly on what I have decided to call the Appalling Question. This is the question asked by “some of them of Jerusalem” in John 7, verses 25-26.
25: Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?
26: But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing to him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?
The Appalling Question is the question in verse 26. Jesus was indeed the man that the rulers (the chief priests and Pharisees) sought to kill, and as a simple violation of the law against murder, this was appalling enough. Jesus had just said as much in John 7: 19-20. But the truly Appalling Question is in verse 26, where “some of them of Jerusalem” ask, do our rulers seek to kill Jesus because they do not know he is “the very Christ,” or do our rulers know he is “the very Christ” and seek to kill him for that very reason?
I believe it is most often said that the religious rulers of Judea sought to kill Jesus because they did not know he was “the very Christ.” In other words, the answer to the Appalling Question in verse 26 is, “no, the rulers do not know that this is the very Christ.” I believe their ignorance is most often explained as a result of their carnal attachment to the religious racket of Second Temple Judaism. The chief priests and Pharisees sought to kill Jesus because they wished to continue to enjoying the material benefits they enjoyed under this racket.
They were no better, and no worse, than a grifting televangelist who contracts a hit to protect his schtick.
I believe that this is wrong, and that the answer to the Appalling Question in verse 26 is, “yes, the rulers do know that this is the very Christ and that is precisely why they seek to kill him.” The appalling answer to the Appalling Question tells us that the religious rulers of the Jews were much worse than a grifting televangelist with very lax morals. They were not just charlatans, mountebanks and frauds. They were not in fact carnal. They were, rather, profoundly spiritual men on the side of the evil spirits.
As Jesus will later tell them, the Devil is their father and, like their father, they know exactly who they seek to destroy.
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Readers appalled by this diagnosis of diabolic wickedness may seek to correct me, and recover their composure, by pointing to Luke 23:34, where the crucified Christ says “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” But in the context it is clear that “they” refers to the unwitting dupes and menial minions who are executing the murderous orders of the rulers in the temple. Those rulers knew exactly what they were doing. They knew exactly who they killed.
As evidence of this, let us return to John 7, verse 36.
36: Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come?
Jesus is speaking of the house of his Father in Heaven, and he is saying that the “officers” of the chief priests and Pharisees to whom he is speaking are inexorably bound for a very different destination. That very different destination is the house of their father in Hell. These officers and their masters “shall not find” Jesus, and “cannot come” to his Father’s house, because they reject Jesus with open eyes.
They reject him not because they are blind, but because they are the witting children of another father. They are accomplices in their father’s diabolic conspiracy to bury Christ and make Satan the one father of us all. In the words of my epigraph, the chief priests, Pharisees and temple guard are on the other side in the great spiritual warfare; they have enlisted in the army of “enemies that are pursuing us to Hell, and binding us in chains of everlasting darkness.”
* * * * *
When I look at many religious and secular rulers of our own time, I cannot help but to ask the Appalling Question. That they seek to kill and bury Christ is plain enough, but the Appalling Question is,
“Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?”
Are these rulers simply “in the dark,” or do they know that they are pursuing us to Hell and binding us in chains of everlasting darkness? Are they simply carnal charlatans and shysters who pretend to be pious because it pays? Or are they wicked enemies of Christ and all things good. Are these rulers stupid or evil?
That is the Appalling Question. And it is most appalling when you consider that no one ever seized a scepter or tiara by being stupid. Thus these rulers do know and are acting on that knowledge.