"Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” (John 18:21)
Why did Jesus answer the high priest like this?This response by Jesus resulted in him being struck by one of the aides to the high priest. Here is what happened right after he said this:
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. (John 18:22)This offensive act against Jesus - God's representative - illustrates a few important elements about the situation:
1) The high priest was in effect trying Jesus - he was making judgment upon Jesus and asking him questions like what was he teaching, even though Jesus' teachings were public knowledge. In other words, the high priest was not sincerely wanting to know what Jesus taught.
2) The high priest, who occupied a political position, demanded respect and was feared by the people. To make an offensive statement against the high priest would typically result in punishment by the high priest's guards.
This tells us a lot about the circumstances Jesus was facing. Many debate about who ultimately crucified Jesus. But is it debatable that the high priest was not a party to this crime against God?
We can understand from this exchange that the high priest was envious of Jesus because Jesus had real authority and the high priest's authority was being threatened. The high priest did not want his temple followers throughout Judea and Jerusalem to leave the temple organization and follow Jesus. The high priest did not want to lose his power and authority. So the high priest had Jesus arrested.
And because the high priest told the Roman governor that Jesus was a threat to the stability of the region, the governor was obliged also - again in order to retain his own seat of power - to persecute Jesus.
Envy is the foundation of self-centeredness and the product of self-centeredness.
What causes enviousness?Enviousness is the result of self-centeredness. When a self-centered person, full of desires, sees that someone is achieving what they desire, enviousness takes hold.
This is what the high priest saw. He saw that Jesus had real authority, and he had lots of followers. Because the high priest wanted authority, and more followers, he became envious of Jesus.
Envy is one of the reasons we are here in the physical world. We are here to learn to grow out of our self-centeredness and enviousness.
The scriptures illustrate how envy can poison our hearts. This is the analogy of Adam and Eve becoming aware they were naked. Then they desired to eat the fruit, and eating the fruit represented wanting to be like God rather than loving God: We wanted what He has - power, authority, beauty, pleasure and so on. This is represented by what the serpent said to Eve:
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)And because Adam and Eve did eat the fruit, we know that they did want to be "like God."
This illustrates, in parable form, how envy can poison our relationship with God. Adam became envious of God by symbolically eating the fruit, and this got him kicked out of the spiritual realm (Eden):
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden... (Genesis 3:23)This is what happened to each of us. The Supreme Being gave us these temporary physical bodies and let us play out our envy of Him within the physical world.
And this is why we are all seeking to be the star, to be the boss, to be rich, to be powerful, to be the Olympic champion or otherwise win, to be famous, beautiful or otherwise great. Ultimately, we want God's position.
Yes, these are all God's positions. God is the boss of everyone. He is the most powerful, the richest, the champion, the winner, the most famous, the most beautiful. He is all of these things and more.
And this is why we seek these things. Because we became envious of Him.
And this is why Jesus was murdered. Because he threatened the power and the authority of those who sought those positions of power and authority.
This is not a discussion of the Jewish faith - the worship of God and the teachings of the prophets who loved and served the Supreme Being.
Rather, this is a discussion about how people utilize the institutions and organizations that supposedly represent those great messengers of God such as the prophets and Jesus for their own benefit. To establish their own positions of power.
Are we claiming power falsely?A person who wants to stake their claim of power in society may choose to be a rock star or movie actor/actress, a wealthy business tycoon, a president or other position of political power, a star athlete. Or they may choose to be the big man in the family, or the big player at church.
Whatever the position, this quest for power has been illustrated by the so many crimes against humanity that so many have waged over the centuries.
Even we find this quest for power among some of the very institutions that have claimed to be representing Jesus' teachings over the centuries.
Are they wolves in sheep's clothing?These fanatical institutions and their power brokers can be the very same people - but wearing different outfits - that Jesus described:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matt. 7:15)Yes, Jesus was dealing with such a person in the guise of the high priest. The high priest was certainly dressed in the ceremonial robes of priests of the times - devotional outfits. But he was a wolf.
And why did Jesus say "sheep's clothing"? Because sheep are known to be docile and obedient. Clothing representing this in Jesus' times were the robes - which were worn by those penniless prophets and teachers that went before Jesus such as John the Baptist. Their clothing represented their obedience to the Supreme Being - they were God's "sheep" so to speak, as God and His representative are compared to the "Shepherd" by Jesus and others in the scriptures.
So they are wearing the clothing of devotion - but are not devoted. This is Jesus' message: Watch out for those who wear the guise of devotion but are seeking to achieve name, fame and followers.
Why is Jesus telling them to watch out? Because these "wolves" are envious of those with real authority. They will persecute those with the real authority of representing the Supreme Being. This is what happened to Jesus.
Now why did Jesus not just describe to the high priest what his teachings were? "Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
Why didn't he just go ahead and preach to the high priest? Maybe he could have converted the high priest, yes?
No. Jesus did not preach to those who were too envious to hear the Truth. These people will take those words and twist them around to suit themselves. They will use those words for their own purposes.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matt. 7:6)As such, they will insult those teachings. This is offensive, and this is why Jesus often spoke in parables and this is why Jesus did not describe his teachings to the high priest.
The Truth is given out freely by the Supreme Being and His representatives. But at the same time, they are careful about the medium and the receiver. They want to reach those who are ready to receive the Truth.
They also understand that ultimately it is the Supreme Being who teaches. The Supreme Being arranges the Truth to be given to those who are ready to hear it.
After all, if the high priest was sincerely receptive to hearing the Truth, he wouldn't have arrested Jesus. He would have simply gone to one of Jesus' public lectures and stood in the crowd and listened with an open heart.
Instead, he had Jesus arrested and he demanded he answer his questions. This is not seeking the Truth. This is a trial.
We must understand that Jesus' objective was to teach the Truth. He was God's messenger. He came to teach those around Him how to come to know and love the Supreme Being. This is why his most important instruction was:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)