One of the most nauseating things about the murder of Jesus is how fast the people of His day turned on Him.
Things certainly started out differently. The book of Mathew tells us “the crowds were amazed at His teaching” (7:28); that “large crowds followed Him” (8:1); that when He healed a paralytic, “the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God” (9:8); that when He exorcised the demonic, “the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel”” (9:33); and that in general “the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel” (15:31).
Then we have His prophesied entry into Jerusalem right before His crucifixion: “Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”” (21:8-9).
His enemies definitely knew better than to try and arrest Him out in the open: “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people … plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”” (26:3-5). This included Judas also who, “began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd” (Luke 22:6).
So what happened?
Hero today, villain tomorrow
I doubt I need to tell you how fast the tide of fickle public opinion can turn, especially today in our digital and emotionally-charged culture. Deceitful and manipulative people know this and thus they weaponize human sentiment for their own gain.
It was the same back in Jesus’ day. His enemies didn’t have Twitter or other social media vehicles to instantly demonize a person so they had to do it the old fashioned way.
Scripture tells us they physically “stirred up the crowd” (Mark 15:11) to achieve their goal. They first got a mob to arrest Him (Matt. 26:47), then they shut down Pilate’s attempt at clemency for Christ in the same way (Matt. 27:20), and finally got everyone screaming for His death (Matt. 27:22).
Their “stirring” actually went so far as to cause ordinary people to mock a Man dying in agony on a cross: “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:29-30).
If that doesn’t send ice water down your back, I don’t know what will. The same crowds that sung His praises were shockingly, only a week or so later, jeering at Him and welcoming His death.
What did Christ’s enemies tell the crowds to turn them against Him? During His trial we’re told, “many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:40) so evidently numerous lies were dispersed about Him. As the old saying goes, there are many tools in the devil’s toolbox, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.
The same thing happens today. Politicians lie about anyone who threatens their power in hopes of winning the crowd over to their side. The mass media, today’s self-appointed determiners of right and wrong, lie about those who disagree with their secular ideology and stir the social media crowds by misleading them with false scare tactics in order to boost their ratings.
Like Thomas Sowell said, “For too many people, especially in the media, what is right and wrong, true or false, depends on who it helps or hurts politically.”
But the religious leaders no doubt also told the crowds the same thing they told Pilate: “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7). That claim of Jesus, of course, was true.
It’s hard to know what stirs a mob more: lies or truths they won’t accept.
The world today uses both against Christianity. It will lie, paint with the broadest brush possible, and say Christians don’t believe in science to wrongly stigmatize us, throwing around terms like “flat-earthers”. Or it gets enraged when confronted with the truth of life beginning at conception and compares pro-life believers to the Taliban.
Jesus told us to expect opposition from the world because, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). We should expect that the crowds will always be stirred against us by Christ’s enemies.
Our job is twofold. First, remain faithful to God’s truth no matter how strong the hostility. Second, check ourselves on a daily basis to make sure we’re not stirred up by lies or facts we find difficult to accept.
Where the latter is concerned, Paul said it best: “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him” (Eph. 4:14-15).
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.