I’m sure that there is no shortage of work on Jesus being the archetype, the perfect example of so many things in narrative and literature. To me, this confirms that the story of God is written on the hearts of men, not the other way around. While other legends may contain pieces of the story of Christ, his in the context of the biblical arc is the only which fully satisfies.
In reflecting the past few days, I came across another way in which I believe the saga is unique, lacking nothing. I was thinking about how the death of Jesus transpired. What led to it? What forces were at work? It was then that I realized that three major societal forces rejected him. Religion, government, and friendship form a major framework for culture throughout most of civilization. I would consider them the three largest man-made institutions in history. The obviously large influence of the family structure seems more of a natural necessity, though the form it takes is often synthetic. All are supposed to help the individual and society flourish, yet all are so easily corruptible. With the three largest establishments of mankind betraying him at once, Jesus truly shows humanity at its darkest.
Perhaps the institution which most blatantly opposed Jesus was the religion of his day. It’s no secret that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were the impetus for his downfall. Supposedly holy men conspired to eliminate him at any cost. Indeed, the temple guard were among those that arrested him in Gethsemane. He was tried before the religious authorities who were the first to confer a death sentence on him. The cultural cornerstone of religion despised and destroyed the very one who would fulfill it.
Secondly, government provided the cruel mechanism by which Christ would be executed. Since the beginning, government has been about, ideally, the right use of power. Yet history shows again and again that it more often becomes a tool of oppression. Rather than protecting citizens, governments just as quickly slaughter them in the name of one ideology or another. For Rome, it was the idyllic “pax romana” which was so quick to sentence death, whether warranted or not. While a first century Jew could hardly expect an occupying Roman governor to protect his life, Pontius Pilate appears to make such an effort for Christ. The Gospels don’t reveal much of his motives, and the outcome is the same regardless. Pilate exemplifies that the broken notion of human government can never truly care for people, even the completely innocent. The representative of Rome hands Jesus over to be beaten and killed in order to keep a measure of peace in his district. In this way, the cultural centerpiece of government disposes of the only one who will ever rightly wield power.
Lastly, the deeply personal act of friendship provides the opportunity for the larger cultural forces to strike. Without the betrayal of Judas, a covert arrest would not have been possible. As the other followers flee and deny him, Jesus experiences the pitiful nature of self-preservation present in all of us. We may expect to be cast aside or abused at the hands of large, impersonal institutions, but friendship is supposed to be the pinnacle of human experience, man looking after his companion. The intimate band of twelve were no more present after Gethsemane than any of the fair-weather followers we encounter in the Gospels, even after the perfect love Jesus had devotedly shown them for three years. Though it is supposed to be the bastion of care for fellow man, the social anchor of friendship failed Jesus even more tragically than the others.
This struck me because God did not have to weave such a complex story of betrayal and power plays to sacrifice Jesus. He could have died sinless any number of ways, but I believe that there is purpose in the events as they transpired. Had Jesus simply been stoned to death for a purported violation of the Jewish Law, human government would not have been exposed for the violent sham that it is. If he had been executed as a revolutionary, the tragedy of personal betrayal, the evil within the individual, would not have been displayed. If he had quietly been murdered by a jealous or greedy friend, the twisted abuses of religion in the hands of man could not have been seen. Somehow as these three forces conspired together, the wholesale brokenness of humanity is laid bare, all of us at our worst. Through the hypocritical priest, the indifferent governor, and the malicious compatriot our best systems are shown for the hollow and hopeless attempts they are without a redeemer.
So I thank God for the depth of the story, the elaborate tapestry of events He wove to show us that we cannot save ourselves, and that given the chance, we will destroy the only one who can. Religion, government, and friendship are little more than shadows of the perfect Kingdom until they are fully redeemed by Christ.