Generation of vipers.
Children of the devil.
These are the names that Christ called the Pharisees. It almost seems… un-Christlike, doesn’t it? We have to realize, though, that Christ didn’t mean these things as insults, but as observable facts, or accurate symbolism. Its not exactly “politically correct,” according to today’s standard, but in truth, God cares more about calling people to repentance than popularity contests.
He cares. About everyone. Sinners and saints, the obedient and the hypocrites. He cares about our happiness and salvation more than we can imagine. In fact, our salvation is all that is on His mind (Moses 1:39).
If any single group was responsible for the crucifixion of our God, it was these men. They continually attempted to trick Christ in His words, to murder Him when the Romans weren’t around, and one day they got their wish.
They murdered God.
So is that it? They are all going to hell?
It would seem so… but what kind of an all benevolent being would use His own spirit brothers and sisters and force them to go to hell? Now that’s not very Christlike.
Setting the Historic Stage
In the year 600 B.C. in the commencement of the reign of King Zedekiah “there came many prophets” (1 Nephi 1:4) calling the people to repentance. They were preaching that the people needed to repent, or they would be enslaved, which we all know.
However, another of the things that they were sharing was that the Messiah would come twice. And why would He come twice? It is because after the Jews returned to the land of Israel, they would wickedly reject their God.
This concept was so infuriating to the leadership at the time that they began killing those who prophesied such a “blasphemous” thing. Next, in a pattern that is followed in every nation (including modern ones), they began removing any mention of these things from their text.
What this means is that for the next 600 years, the Jews believed that the Messiah would come and redeem them from bondage, and from slavery. Not spiritual slavery, not spiritual bondage, but specifically physical slavery to the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Romans.
Six Hundred and Thirty Years Later
The Messiah comes, as prophesied, to redeem mankind from their sins. He comes in humility, in a manger, and instead of preaching rebellion and freedom from the heathens, He comes preaching peace, charity, and forgiveness.
Peter, in his zeal to fight for his Master and to free his people, raises a sword and smites the ear off of a man. Christ, fulfilling His role of lamb to the slaughter, doesn’t take the opportunity to purge the wicked from the promised land, and instead heals the injured man.
Then God, the most powerful mortal to grace the earth, allows Himself to be taken, stripped, beat, mocked, scourged, spat upon, whipped, and condemned. This act is the most meek moment in history because, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Meekness is great power under complete control.”
Who else has more power than God? What man would not want to use any means necessary to escape such a terrible fate? When a trial seems to heavy to bear, and you feel powerless, remember that Christ has been in your place more than we tend to realize, and that He has the power to make you whole.
While this torture is going on, Peter is asked, “I recognize you, you were with Jesus of Nazareth!”
Peter’s hopeless response, “I know not the man!” seems out of character for a man who was just willing to fight and die for the Messiah.
How else might we interpret that phrase?
“I thought I knew Him. I walked with Him, was taught by Him, loved Him, would have died for Him, but… He is not fulfilling the role that He promised He would fulfill. Recently Jesus said He would be taken and killed, but we didn’t understand. I still don’t understand, He is the Messiah, the Spirit has testified it to me! The scriptures said God would redeem us from bondage, not be slain!
“I thought I knew Jesus Christ, but perhaps I didn’t really know Him after all….”
It is no wonder that after three times of facing this reality that Peter finally broke down, and wept.
Another example of this confusion is when Christ visited the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These men were sure that Christ would redeem them, but they woke up the same day that every said Christ was resurrected, and they were still subject to the Romans. To the Jews, things simply were not adding up…
An Eternal Perspective Solves Most Mysteries
So why did this have to happen this way? Why did God allow the prophets to be slain, and the scriptures to be changed during Israel’s rebellion?
Before the world began, Christ was ordained by our loving Heavenly Father to redeem mankind from the fall. He did this through the infinite Atonement, the most powerful act of love to permeate every particle of existence.
One aspect of the Atonement is that Christ, the Anointed One, would come unto His own, and they would receive Him not. The chosen people of the Lord, the covenant people of God, would reject, and forsake their God. They went as far as to kill God. They literally murdered their own God, an innocent man, in cold blood.
Well, that is not technically correct. They had no power to kill Christ, Christ gave up His life willingly, by His own power. However, they fulfilled the role of slaying the mortal part of Him. Things had to be done this way as part of the Atonement. If there was any other way it could be done, Christ asked the Father that it be done that way, but suffered the will of the Son to be swallowed up in the will of the Father (Matt 26:39).
I imagine that the conversation in the pre-mortal life between Jehovah and Heavenly Father went something like this:
“Per the requirements of the Atonement, I will be crucified by my own people, ones who are now valiant disciples of you, Father.”
“How will you keep them from becoming Sons of Perdition?”
“All men are held accountable to the light that they have received. They will be guilty of the crimes they commit against the law which they do have; but to save them from knowingly killing their own God, I will give them the gift of ignorance.”
Every time I consider the love of God, I am in awe. But when I learn something like this, when I realize the time, and effort, and pain that Christ goes through to extend the arms of mercy to us, the most profound adoration and reverence fills my heart.
“How great the wisdom and the love
That filled the courts on high
And sent the Savior from above
To suffer, bleed, and die!
“How great, how glorious, how complete
Redemption’s grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet In harmony divine!” – Hymn 195
If Christ loved His own murderers so much that He would put a plan in to rescue His from outer darkness, consider what He has done for you. I do not mean to imply that He loves you more because you are more righteous, or that He loves others less because they don’t keep the same commandments as you; what I mean is that that He would do, and has done, the same for you in some way.
Realize that the Pharisees lived their whole lives not knowing what Christ had done for them 600 years in the past. We are encouraged to give anonymous service to each other, what kind of anonymous service does God do for us? How many prayers for safety and prosperity and happiness are answered without us knowing?
How great is His forgiveness to those who will but reach out, and enter the embrace of the arms of mercy? Realizations such as these help us understand what is meant by, “The Atonement is the greatest act of love to permeate reality.”
So yes, the Pharisees will be held accountable for the light they did sin against. They knew that they were crucifying and innocent man, and God will deal with them justly. But they were, unlike Judas Iscariot, spared from knowingly crucifying their God.