How did the Romans view Jesus?
Everyone views Jesus differently. Some think He was a prophet, others think He was a teacher, and still others think He was a common man. Of course, Christians worship Him as our loving Savior, the One we live to please and around whom we build our lives. For the next three weeks we’ll study what some important people groups thought of Him and His ministry. The question we’re focusing on this week: How did the Romans view Jesus?
As a whole, the Romans didn’t think of Jesus as a Savior or a prophet or even any kind of politically powerful man. He wasn’t at the top of their agenda. In Jesus’ day, Rome was focused on its own empire more than the dealings of the Jewish people. But Jesus had incredible interactions with Romans such as Pontius Pilate and a powerful centurion that teach us how He worked through this people group and challenged their perceptions. Tune in for biblical and cultural insight that will give you a clearer picture of who Jesus is.
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover, and with me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. We have an exciting show for you today. But before Chris comes, I'd like to remind you to visit our website foiradio.org. We have over five years worth of programming on our site for you to listen to, and I also invite you to browse around and enjoy the content we offer on our main ministry webpage. There you will find trustworthy and accurate news on Israel and the Middle East. While you're there, you can support our ministry by clicking on the donate button to help us continue teaching biblical truth about Israel and the Jewish people. Once again, that's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Now, today on the program we're going to be starting a new series. A series on the different perspectives of Jesus from the gospel accounts. What I mean by that is this: when Jesus came during his life and he walked the land of Israel, there was no monolithic way of looking at Jesus. People came to Jesus for different reasons. People understood Jesus from different ways. Today, we're actually going to begin by looking at the Roman understanding of Jesus. The Romans occupied the land of Israel at that time. How did they understand Jesus and his message? Especially a very important Roman, a Roman named Pontius Pilate. Today, that's what we're going to be talking about.
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Everyone sees Jesus differently. Now, before I continue first, let me say this. We here at The Friends of Israel Today believe, teach, and preach that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah who redeemed mankind from their sins through his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The blood of Christ washes away the sins of those who repent and turn to him. And through Christ's work on the cross, believers in him have been reconciled to God. Because of Christ we are seen as righteous in God's eyes. We have a relationship with the father.
Okay. With that said, when I say that everyone in the world sees Jesus differently, I mean they all see him from various religious angles. For instance, the Muslims value Jesus as one of the greatest prophets. Certain Jewish people understand Jesus to be a very influential rabbi and teacher. For the secular world, Jesus was a teacher who left behind a good example. The golden rule of how you should live. And some in the secular world just see religion and Jesus as a problem that caused a lot of global issues. And then there are believers in Jesus like us who believe he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Well, when you get to the gospel accounts of Jesus and you read through the gospels, you quickly realize that everyone even in the gospels saw Jesus differently. In the first century, too. There certainly wasn't a monolithic way of looking at Jesus and his message. There were a lot of people listening and watching Jesus. When Jesus walked the land of Israel, remember, the Romans occupied it. So, you have the Romans hearing Jesus, and seeing Jesus, and watching Jesus. The religious Jewish aristocracy who governed the people, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were watching Jesus a certain way as well.
And then there's a group of people that scholars call the people of the land. These were Jewish people who are not associated with any sect or group. These are just your average Jewish people who got up in the morning, and went to work, and came home, and raised a family. They saw and heard Jesus during his lifetime. And they looked at him a certain way as well. Over the next three weeks, we are going to be looking at these various ways the people understood Jesus. We're going to look at the way the Pharisees and Sadducees saw Jesus. We're going to go back to the way that the common Jewish person saw Jesus. And today, we're going to look at how the Romans viewed Jesus. What were their thoughts on Jesus and who he claimed to be?
Okay. Before we talk about the Roman understanding of Jesus, let's first set the stage for how Rome looked at Israel and the Jewish people, because that's going to help us here. When you read the Bible, Israel and the Jewish people are the centerpiece of the text. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wants to use Israel and the Jewish people to bring salvation and redemption to all mankind. When the Romans think about this, when the Romans take control of the land of Israel around 64 BC, they don't have a Jerusalem centric way of looking at the world. The center of the world to them was not Jerusalem. It was Rome. And the King of Kings was not Jesus or the Messiah. The promised Messiah. It was Caesar. For Caesar, and Rome, and the Roman people, Israel and the Jewish people, they were just way on the outskirts of the empire.
They wanted access. The Romans wanted access to the land of Israel because of its strategic placement on the map. But the Jewish people to them were just inconsequential. Let's just put it this way. Israel wasn't on the front page of Roman newspapers in the first century BC, or leading into the first century AD at that time. Really not until 70 AD did Jerusalem really begin to make its way into the forefront of the minds of the Roman people. Jesus really even throughout the gospel accounts didn't really interact with Rome officially until he was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. After his trial before the Sanhedrin, he was brought to Pontius Pilate. And there was no sign of Rome throughout Jesus's life condemning Jesus, or threatening to shut down his message, or to put an end to Jesus until he was forced to stand before Pontius Pilate, Rome's representative in the land.
And I'll be honest. When you read through the gospel accounts, Pilate doesn't want to entertain the issue of Jesus. Jesus wasn't Rome's problem. Remember, Jesus in the Roman world was just some peasant from a distant country. At first, Pilate ... remember he's the governor of Judea, so he represents Rome. In fact, it's going to be the Caesar who places ... it's going to be the emperor who places Pilate in that place. Judea was under Imperial control, which means it was a direct one-to-one connection. It didn't have to go through senatorial process in Rome. It wasn't a senatorial-controlled area, a public-controlled area for Rome. This was an Imperial location, because it was kind of known as being a troublesome area. The emperor put Pilate in his place there in Judea.
At first, Pilate finds no fault with Jesus. To Pilate and Rome, Jesus isn't an issue at all. In fact, Pilate tells the Jewish leaders to handle this judicial punishment themselves. Essentially, he says, "Don't waste my time here." But the Jewish leadership were going for the death penalty, which according to them, they weren't permitted to do. So again, Pilate who represents Rome wanted nothing to do with this. Pilate says twice in John 18, "I find no crime in him," which means he's innocent. And even tries to free Jesus. Remember when he offers the Jewish people during Passover, they have an opportunity to take someone and bring them back into society. Someone who was put in prison. Barabbas was going to be one of them, so he offers them either Barabbas or Jesus to be released. And the Jewish community chose the guilty criminal Barabbas over Jesus, who was deemed innocent by Pilate.
It was probably just blowing Pilate's mind that they would take a criminal over someone who's innocent. Even though Rome wasn't very present during the days of Jesus ... What I mean by that, that they weren't lording over Jesus or watching him closely. They never saw him as a threat to the empire or to Caesar's throne. But those Judean religious leaders took advantage of Rome's strict treason law. Do you know that Rome had a strict treason law that was actually strengthened under Emperor Tiberius, who ruled during the Roman empire during the trial of Christ? See, Pilate still considered Jesus innocent, but the law of treason was very serious and the religious leaders were using it to their advantage.
The religious leaders of Israel said to Pilate in John 19, "Listen, if you release this man, Jesus, you're no friend of Caesar, Pilate. Everyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar." Even though Pontius Pilate fought to free Jesus until the bitter end, eventually he had to give into this pressure. And so Pilate reluctantly responds, and he sends Jesus to the cross. But of course, that wasn't the end of Jesus.
I want to highlight something though that's interesting, because there's this interesting interaction that Jesus and Pilate have together during the trial. Jesus explains that the reason he was born ... he’s saying this to Pilate. The reason that he was born was to bring truth. "For this reason I was born," Jesus says, "And for this reason, I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Jesus says this to Pilate and Pilate's response, I think, is going to show us something important about this interaction between Rome and Jesus. Pilate responds, "What is truth?"
Pilate's response really shows a major worldview clash. It's a serious clash of philosophy here. One that I still think plays out today. It's the Roman philosophy, which I believe is a philosophy that's prevalent today in what we call post-modernism. Everyone's truth is a valid truth. And if everyone's truth is a valid truth, then whose truth is right? Can you have an absolute truth? Or as Pilate said, "What is truth?" For Jesus and the Jewish way of thinking, truth was extremely concrete. Truth in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition was God's covenant faithfulness. Truth is rooted in the scriptures and the faithfulness of God.
Jesus is the beacon of truth. Jesus is the walking truth. Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me." For Pilate, the Roman who's thinking philosophically, completely differently, the absolute concepts of truth was extremely abstract. Perhaps even impractical to him. But for Jesus and his message to Pilate, truth is rooted in Christ himself. This is a very interesting interaction that you see play out between Jesus and the Romans at that time. Or Jesus and Pilate, who really represents Roman occupation in Israel.
Fast forward today. We have people in our time. They never put a thought into Jesus. They don't even notice him. They might've heard of his name, or heard about some of the miracles that he performed, but they never really stopped to listen or engage with his message of truth. Rome had many truths. They ignored Jesus' truth that he preached, but Jesus wasn't done with Rome. You'll see that play out throughout the New Testament. The reality is Rome wasn't looking for Jesus, but Jesus would make himself known to Rome.
Pilate told Jesus his life rests in his hands, and Pilate determined ... he said, "I determine whether you live or die, Jesus." And Jesus kindly told him something amazing. "You would have no authority over me at all unless it was given to you from above." I want to talk more about that authority that Jesus was pointing to. But first I want to ... When we talk about Rome, when we talk about the life of Jesus, we have to kind of enter into the world of Jesus. When you read through the Old Testament, you get to a point in Old Testament history where you flip the page. Once you flip that last page of the Old Testament and you go to a New Testament, you jump 400 years of history. And a lot changes.
All of a sudden we have Roman occupation in the land of Israel. You have these people called Pharisees and Sadducees. You have synagogues that all of a sudden appear. No longer are they called Israelites. Now they're called Jews. Where did this all come from? Where did the Samaritans come from, that amazing story of the Samaritan? All of this comes from the background of the world of Jesus. I want to enlighten you to a book that's been very valuable to me. It's called The World of Jesus by Dr. William H Marty.
Listen, if you can get your mind wrapped around the events that took place between the Testament, that little page that kind of flaps that defines the New Testament, that break between the Old Testament and the New Testament ... If you can get your mind wrapped around the history and transitions that happen during that time, it's going to enlighten you more to what the scriptures are teaching in the New Testament. It's going to give you a deeper understanding of the world that Jesus was ministering to. And not only Jesus, but Paul, and Peter, and John, and the apostles. It's going to enlighten you to the New Testament era that really is going to bring to life the text more and more. That's why I want to encourage you to get the book, The World of Jesus by Dr. William H Marty. Steve, can you let our listeners know how they can get their copy of The World of Jesus by Dr. William H Marty?
Steve Conover: To purchase a copy of The World of Jesus by William H Marty, visit us at foiradio.org. Again, that's foiradio.org. There, you'll find a link on our homepage. Or you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940, and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940. In Canada, call (888) 664-2584. Once again, in Canada that's (888) 664-2584.
Chris Katulka: So, we're looking at various responses to Jesus's life, a message while he walked the earth from the gospels. And we've been looking at the Roman response. The Romans were very present during the ministry of Christ on earth. They occupied the Holy Land. And yet for being Israel's greatest enemy, Rome and Jesus really didn't interact until his trial with Pilate and the crucifixion. To be honest, Jesus wasn't really concerned with defeating Rome. As much as it was an interest to the people around him ... Rome was definitely a problem to the Jewish people in Jesus's time, but he definitely wasn't interested in defeating Rome.
Jesus was interested in something more. He was interested in the spiritual condition of his people. Rome wasn't God's problem. Israel's heart was God's problem. However, it's easy to stereotype Rome as a bunch of Roman citizens who didn't care about Jesus or his message. I did say before the break that Rome wasn't looking for Jesus. And I still believe that. They weren't looking at this peasant from the outskirts of the Roman Empire, but that doesn't mean there are exceptions to the rule. That's what I want to focus in on here.
I'm reminded of the Centurion at Capernaum in Matthew chapter 8 and Luke chapter 7. Listen to what the text says here. "When he entered Capernaum," in Matthew chapter 8, starting in verse five: "When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help. 'Lord, my servant is lying home paralyzed in terrible anguish.' And Jesus said to him, 'I will come and heal him.' But the centurion replied, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed, for I too am a man under authority with soldiers under me. I say to this one go, and he goes. And to another come, and he comes. And to my slave, do this and he does it.'"
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "I tell you the truth. I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel. I tell you, many will come from the East and West to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go. Just as you believed, it will be done for you." And the servant was healed that hour.
Here's a Roman citizen who defends Rome's interests as a centurion. A Roman army official who had authority over 60 to 80 soldiers. In fact, scholars call centurions the backbone of the Roman army. The centurion servant was paralyzed and in terrible anguish, and he came to Jesus asking for help. Even as a Roman Gentile, this centurion knew Jesus was capable of healing his servant. And Jesus offers to come, but the centurion says he doesn't want him to come actually. He doesn't have to come, because he knows under Jewish law it would make Jesus unclean. He didn't want to make him unclean, because his ministry was to Israel at that time.
And yet the centurion knows that simply speaking the word, Jesus can heal his servant. He validates the authority. Remember, we talked about that just as we ended the last segment. He validates the authority Jesus possesses when he says, "For I too am a man under authority with soldiers under me. I say to this one go, and he goes. And to another come, and he comes. And to my slave, do this and he does it." The centurion is saying that he understands authority, and Jesus is one who possesses authority.
His words are so pleasing to Jesus. You can almost see the reaction in your mind of what Jesus feels, and what his face looks like when he hears this come from the centurion's mouth. This Roman's mouth. And Jesus sees his faith that he's not looking for a sign. He's not looking to see a miracle happen before his very eyes, because he knows Jesus has the authority to heal. He doesn't even need to see Jesus perform it. He knows it will be done the moment he leaves.
This is faith. A Roman centurion exhibited true faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Luke's account tells us a little more about the centurion. That he loves Israel, he loves the Jewish people, even built the synagogue for them. Luke gives us more of a background into this Roman. But either way, Jesus's response is to his faith. That's what's so vital. The centurion's faith was a way for Jesus to show that Gentiles through faith will be invited to join at the banquet with the Jewish people in the future banquet that's coming. The promise to Abraham was for the benefit of all people. It's only by faith in Christ that we have the ability to sit at the future banquet table.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: Our little David just finished kindergarten. But before he finished, he caused quite a furor. At lunch every day when David said grace, he finished with the words, "B’shem Yeshua Hamashiach." In the name of Jesus, the Messiah.
One day, his teacher asked him, "Who is Yeshua?"
David answered, "Jesus is the greatest in heaven."
Then his teacher asked, "And who taught you to pray this way?"
"My father," he answered.
One day when I came home from work, David's teacher was waiting for me. "Do you know why I came?" she inquired. "I would like to know about your child's prayer, which always ends with the words 'In the name of Jesus, the Messiah.'"
I asked her, "Is that against school regulations?"
"No," she said, "but it is not customary for a Jewish child to pray this way. Do you belong to a new, unknown sect in Israel?"
"No, it began right here in Jerusalem."
"Oh, I am surprised I have not heard about it until now."
"This is no strange faith," I said. "It is the faith of the prophets, and of many Jews who live in the first century. It is the faith which I hope many Jews will accept in the future."
The teacher said, "Now I understand you. You're speaking about the Christian religion. Now I see that you taught little David to pray this way. Is it fair to fill a little child's head with this?"
I said, "If I do not fill his head and heart with what is right and good, then others will fill him with things which will not be so good for him or for our nation. What I believe in was taught and predicted by our prophets. There are many others who believe like we do."
"But you have estranged yourself and your children from our nation."
"No," I answered. "Quite the contrary. The more I know my bible and believe in Messiah, the closer I feel to my people."
My wife offered her tea and we sat down, then the mailman came with a registered letter. It was a government order to report for military service. I showed it to her and said, "You see? I have not become estranged from my people. I often risk my life for our nation. This is true of any others who believe like I do."
After that, that teacher became friendlier, especially after my children played for her on their musical instruments. The guitar, the piano, the mandolin, and the flute. Our children played the words of Psalm 118:26.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
The teacher liked it very much. She even asked for my permission that they might play at the kindergarten graduation ceremony before the start of vacation.
"Of course," I told her. "They would be glad to do so."
She left our home impressed with what she had heard and seen. This was the way our five year-old David gave his testimony for the Lord without even knowing it.
Steve Conover: You for joining us today. Chris, where are we headed next week?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, we're continuing our Perspectives on Jesus series. Today, we looked at the Romans and their understanding of Jesus. Next week, we're going to be looking at the religious leaders and what they thought of Jesus. It was definitely not monolithic, but they had a perspective on Jesus that I think is very interesting. I hope our listeners tune in next week.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. One last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
The World Of Jesus
By Dr. William H. Marty
As you finish reading the end of the Old Testament and begin reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, you notice that the world changed in some major ways over 400 years. This time gap probably left you with questions like:
- Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees?
- Why are Israelites now called “Jews”?
- Why do people worship in the synagogue instead of the Temple now?
This book will guide you through the world as it was 2,000 years ago. It’s an eye-opening read that helps you understand the society in which Jesus lived!
IN CANADA? ORDER HERE!
Apples of Gold: In the Name of Jesus the Messiah
Before eating lunch at school, Zvi’s young son David finished his prayer, “B’shem Yeshua Hamashiach”––in the name of Jesus the Messiah. One day his kindergarten teacher asked him who Yeshua Hamashiach was. David’s answer caused quite a stir, and his teacher went directly to Zvi’s home to question him about his influence on David’s prayers. Always ready to share the gospel, Zvi told her the truth about the Messiah. It’s encouraging when God uses children to share the love of Jesus!
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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