Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews

Author: Mirosław Rucki

Unlike criminals, Jesus was convicted not of what He had done but of who He was. His guilt lay in the fact the He was the Messiah, king of the Jews and the Son of God.

Two thousand years ago, at the time of the Jewish feast of Passover, Jesus of Nazareth was executed by crucifixion. He was an exceptional man in many respects: His coming unto the world was unusual, His life was amazing, but the most remarkable were His death and resurrection. He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38); He did not commit any crime, nonetheless, He was sentenced to a disgraceful crucifixion. Let us ponder why the religious leaders of Israel had Jesus put to death and what the consequences are for us, living in the 21st century.

Stoning to death without trial

At Jesus’ time, Jews enjoyed certain freedoms in trying people for various crimes according to their own law of Moses. The only exception, imposed by the Roman occupational authorities, was the death sentence, which Jews could not pass (John 18:31). There was one crime, however, when Jews did not care at all about the ban placed by the pagan occupants. This crime was blasphemy.

The Jews were deeply convinced that the sin of apostasy committed by one of them will inevitably incur guilt upon the whole of Israel and bring a national catastrophe. This is why, on every occasion when they heard a blasphemy, they would grasp stones right away to kill the blasphemer in pursuance of the commandment of the Torah: If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ (…) you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God (Deut. 13:7-11).
For the Jews, the divine identity of Jesus was absolutely unacceptable. Prophetic scriptures spoke of this in a veiled manner, therefore nobody in Israel expected that God would assume a corporal manifestation and be born of the Virgin Mother, becoming fully man. Hence, seeing before them the man Jesus, they received all His words about the unity with God The Father as a blasphemy and enticement to apostasy.

For this very reason the discussion of Pharisees with Jesus about His identity had to end exactly like this: Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’. So they took up stones to throw at him (John 8:58-59).

stones to throw at him (John 8:58-59). Jesus said to them, ‘I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God’ (John 10:30-33).

The fact that the Jews were ready to kill Jesus on the spot, without notifying Pontius Pilate and not waiting for his permission, strongly testifies that it was nothing else but His identity of the Son of God that bothered them. Ultimately, it was for this that Jesus was crucified.

Forced admission of ‘guilt’

The Gospel according to Matthew, originally written for the Jews in their own language, contains an interesting detail related to the accusation of Jesus Christ and sentencing Him to death. The high priests and members of the Sanhedrin were aware that they had to indicate some serious crime before Pontius Pilate, otherwise they would not be able to secure a conviction. Jesus therefore was charged with various offences confirmed by false witnesses, but He did not answer them. And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so’ (Matt. 26:62-64).

In the realities of Jewish life, this dialogue with the High Priest is an unequivocal verification of Jesus’ divine identity. Having been adjured by the name of God by the High Priest himself, Jesus could not remain silent; neither could He tell a lie. The words uttered by Jesus were not what any Jew could say about himself in such a situation. This is evident from the unambiguous reaction of the High Priest and all the others: Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death’ (Matt. 26:65-66).

The religious and legal reality of Israel at that time required the High Priest to express his view on Jesus’ reply. Theoretically, he could consider a possibility that under oath Jesus had told him the truth about His divine identity. However, the confession he heard shook the High Priest so badly that he immediately tore his robes as he was expected to do upon hearing a blatant blasphemy. The other agreed with him and decided that Jesus should die for being the Messiah, Son of God and king of the Jews … Exactly as they told Pontius Pilate: We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God (John 19:7).

Crown of thorns

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him. And they began to salute him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him (Mark 15:16-19).

In the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, on every first Friday of a month, at 3:00 p.m. (i.e. at the hour of Christ’s death), an exposition takes place of the relic venerated for centuries as Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. What did the insignia look like – that in the intention of its makers was meant as an instrument of torture and a sign of mockery? Originally, it had the shape of a coif made of thorny bush and covering the entire head. Its framework was a hoop of smoothly plaited twigs to which other twigs of thorns were attached and fastened possibly with a piece of string.

The botanists who examined the Paris relic found that the hoop of the Crown, about 21 cm in diameter, was made from the rush Juncus balticus, native to the eastern Mediterranean. They did not rule out the possibility that it could be the authentic Crown of Thorns of Jesus of Nazareth.

The question of thorn identification, however, is much more difficult. The botanists believe that the coif must have had from 50 to 60 thorns. Meanwhile, in 1870, the French architect Charles Rohault de Fleury counted that there were 139 thorns kept in Europe’s churches and venerated as the elements of Christ’s Crown of Thorns. This means that some of them are false or are socalled secondary relics made by rubbing them against true thorns. Only in a few cases, are there any documents that help reconstruct exactly the history of thorns and trace if they came from Constantinople or later from Paris. The history of this amazing relic of Jesus Christ’s Passion was described in great detail in the book Witnesses to Mystery.

The torture with a crown of thorns was invented solely for Jesus. No historical record mentions a crown of thorns being placed on the heads of the condemned prior to crucifixion. On the Shroud of Turin, many stains left by bleeding cuts on the head can be seen. They resulted from the piercing of blood vessels on the head by the thorns of the crown. Surgeons counted 13 injuries on the forehead and 20 on the back of the head made by the thorns but they think there may have been as many as 50. Since a network of nerves and blood vessels spreads under the skin of the head, the crown of thorns caused excruciating pain and heavy bleeding.

“If one remembers that on 1 sq. cm of the skin of the head there are over 140 spots sensitive to pain, it can be imagined what terrible suffering Christ felt during the tragic crowning,” wrote L. Coppini, Director of the Institute of Anatomy, the University of Bologna.

Examinations have established that the blood stains on the Shroud are consistent with the anatomy of small arteries and veins on the human head. This is yet another argument in favour of the authenticity of the Shroud because blood circulation was described and explored only in 1593.

Title of guilt

The Roman custom required that an inscription be placed above the crucified person’s head, explaining for what crime such a terrible punishment befell him. In the case of Jesus, the inscription only confirmed that His guilt was His identity: Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek (John 19:19-20).

Amazingly, the wooden tablet with the title of guilt has survived to our times (see the book Witness to Mystery). We know from historical records that it was discovered by St. Helena and divided into two parts. This practice was consistent with the worldview prevailing at that time. No importance was then attached to the preservation of finds intact, because people did not think in terms of scientific documentation. What people valued more was the mysterious sacred power (numinosum) contained in every particle of a relic, however minute. In accordance with the principle that a part represents the whole (pars pro toto), sacred objects were divided into small fragments of which each was endowed with the same power that previously dwelt in its intact form.

Jesus’ titulus was split in two vertically. The left part stayed in Jerusalem while the right one was taken by St. Helena to Rome. The Jerusalem part was destroyed most likely in the Persian invasion in 614, while the Roman part only once was in danger. In 1798, Rome was taken by the French army and many churches were damaged and plundered. From the last monk who remained in the Basilica, invaders demanded to give up the Passion Relics. Luckily, the monks had hidden them earlier and only reliquaries were surrendered to the Frenchmen. Only in 1803, were all cult objects returned to their proper place and new reliquaries to hold them were paid for by the Spanish Princess Villa-Hermosa.

The preserved half of the tablet contains the first part of the inscription saying that the condemned person was Iesus Nazarenus. The examination of the relic has shown that it was broken along the left edge, cutting the inscription in the middle. The length of the Roman part of the titulus is 25 cm, which suggests that the whole tablet was originally 50 cm long. This is consistent with the archaeological discoveries which tell us that tablets put up above the heads of those crucified were usually half a metre long. The inscription on the titulus has three lines. The first contains words in Hebrew, the second in Greek, and the third in Latin. Quite unusually, the Greek and Latin texts were carved as a mirror image, from right to left – as if imitating the Hebrew manner of writing.

Michael Hesemann had the inscription examined by world-renowned palaeographers without telling them, however, whence the inscription came. The scientists found that “the Jewish style of writing” was characteristic of “the late period of the Second Temple” or the 1st century. The examination of the Greek inscription was entrusted to other palaeographers who specialized in the study of writing in this language. Their attention was especially attracted by the style of the letter alpha and the monogram omicron-upsilon. As a result, the scholars concluded that the Greek inscription dated from the 1st century.

All the palaeographers who studied the titulus ruled out the possibility that it could date from the time of St. Helena or from the Middle Ages. They also believed the inscriptions to have been made between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, although most of them positively indicated the first century. Relying on the examination results, Hesemann published Titulus Crucis in 1999 in which he announced that the relic kept in the Roman Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is the authentic ‘title of guilt’ of Jesus Christ.

He was wounded for our transgressions (Isa. 53:5)

If one tried hard, one could find more people who were savagely murdered because of their royal status. The exceptional character of Jesus lies in the fact that through Him God commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). Betrayed by Judas and abandoned even by Peter, Jesus received from God the most wonderful assurance that His Passion and Death had a saving power for us. Hence, let’s not delay but confess our sins and trust Jesus. For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

We have enough evidence that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be: the Son of God, King of Israel and king of the entire world. But despite His greatness, He was so distressed by our suffering that for our salvation He took upon Himself all the consequences of our sins. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:4-5). Let’s not permit sin to continue to rule over our bodies and minds.

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