Summary: If we were to ask those who were there on Good Friday Who the Man on the Cross was? We would get conflicting answers.
Who Was on the Cross
In 1950, Japanese Film Director Akira Kurosawa produced a movie that through the years has appeared on any number of lists of great movies. Maybe you are familiar with it, the name of the movie is Rashomon, and the premise of the movie has been used in movies, novels and television shows in the sixty years since it first opened.
The movie opens with a woodcutter and a priest sitting under a city gate waiting for a rainstorm to pass by. When another man joins them, the priest and woodcutter tell the newcomer a disturbing story.
It seems that three days earlier the woodcutter had come across the body of a murdered samurai, the priest adds that he had seen the samurai and his wife the same day the murder happened. The priest and woodcutter were later called to testify in court where they met the bandit who had been captured and charged with the murder of the samurai and the rape of his wife.
The rest of the movie tells and retells the story from four different perspectives. The court hears the testimony of the bandit, the samurai’s wife, the samurai’s ghost and finally the woodcutter who had not only discovered the body but had witnessed the crimes.
Each of the stories are mutually contradictory and even the final version is motivated by ego and the concept of saving or losing face. Was the samurai killed by the bandit? Or was he killed by his wife? Or did he kill himself in order to save face? Each version contradicts the others and yet each of the witnesses feels that their version is the truth. Sound familiar?
One theory is that the movie was, with its differing and conflicting views of truth, simply an allegory of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II. Or maybe it was just a movie. In case you are looking for something to watch it has been included in the list “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” I checked the list, I only have 994 left to watch.
And maybe you are sitting there confused wondering: what in the world does a Japanese movie from 1950 have to do with Good Friday? I’m glad you asked.
You see if we were able to interview those who were present at the crucifixion of Christ and ask them the question “Who is the man on the cross?” we would discover that the Rashomon effect, as it’s often called predates the movie by almost 2000 years.
So The Religious Leader’s Perspective was simply that they had done what had to be done for the benefit of the majority. They would say that the one who had been crucified was where he needed to be. In their eyes, Jesus was rocking the boat, or upsetting the apple cart. Call it what you will but who did Jesus think he was to be teaching the things he taught?
For a thousand years the religious leaders of Israel saw themselves as the gatekeepers to God. They interpreted the scriptures, they interceded for people, they enforced the rules, they called the shots. And along came this young upstart from Galilee with all his talk of loving God and loving others.
First there was John, preaching repentance and baptism, people were flocking to him in droves, but he was constantly telling people he wasn’t the Messiah, so he really didn’t pose much of a threat to the establishment. And if there was a threat there, well Herod dealt with that when he had John beheaded.
But Jesus, Jesus was a different story, he called himself the Son of God, he offered people forgiveness for their sins and he challenged the authority of the religious establishment.
And now there was talk about his being proclaimed King by his followers who saw him as their Messiah, and the religious leaders didn’t think that would be seen as a positive development by the Romans.
So, it was the religious leaders who arranged for the arrest of Jesus, and it was the religious leaders who falsely charged Jesus with heresy and treason and it was the religious leaders that demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus.
When the religious leaders looked at the man on the cross they might say they saw a heretic and blasphemer. But the reality was that Jesus was killed because he annoyed the religious establishment and when they looked at the cross they saw a solution to their problem hanging there.
But the religious leaders didn’t have the authority to have Jesus crucified, that power belonged to the empire and the face of the empire in Israel was Pontius Pilate. Which is why we read in John 18:29-31 So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?” “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted. “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them. “Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied.