When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. (Matthew 27:1-7)
They Took Counsel Against Jesus
One of the striking stories about the life of Jesus is how many times the religious leaders of God’s people took counsel to destroy the man from Nazareth. The opposition against Jesus was not lead by the immoral filth of the world that were offended by His stand against morality. The political despots who feared what the miracle worker would do to their positions of power and influence did not hound the Lord. Jesus Christ was led to the cross at the begging of religious, zealous Jews who were once called the “apple of God’s eye” and who were the keepers of the Law.
The sect of the Pharisees was the so-called spiritual elite among the Jewish people and the popular party of the day. They were extremely devoted to keeping the Law of Moses to absolute perfection. Along with another party of religious zealots, the Sadducees, these devotees to Moses confronted Jesus repeatedly. From the beginning of His public ministry, the religious leaders were bitterly opposed to everything Jesus said and did. This also included the chief priests, elders and scribes of the Jews. What is more remarkable is their intent against the Lord was not merely to oppose Him but to kill Him. After Jesus was arrested and brought before Pilate, it was the persistence of the religious leaders that forced the hand of the Roman government to murder an innocent man.
Moses would have been horrified at how corrupt, immoral and decadent the leaders of the nation had become. The Law of Moses came from the mouth of God. Corrupt men used the holy word of God to murder the innocent. Through the years, the Law had been used by men to seduce the hearts of the people and give them power to reign with lusts, envy and absolute rule. The people feared the elders, scribes and religious elite. Jesus repeatedly warned against the scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat. He called them hypocrites, snakes, children of hell and whitewashed tombs. The Lord knew what they really were. It was by their hands that Jesus died.
The death of Jesus was carried out by the Roman Empire but the hand of the Jewish leaders instigated it. Jew and Gentile alike share in the guilt of the murder of God’s Son. What is so terribly sad about the death of Jesus is the knowledge that religious men were responsible. Man has not changed. The word of God has been used through the centuries for man to oppress and harm his fellow man. Is the word of God to blame? Certainly not. The Law of Moses never allowed for the actions of the religious leaders in the day of Jesus. Today, the Bible is not a book that authorizes the actions of self-righteous zealots. Jesus came to save the eternal souls of men. His message is power through peace. Sin is the enemy. It must be conquered. Too many men take counsel without the counsel of God. Salvation does not come by religious men – it comes from the Lord God alone.
The love of power is oppressive in every sphere, but in the religious most of all. (Romano Guardini, The Church and The Catholic, 1953)