Easter Without Hindsight: The crowds’ view of Jesus
We’ve mentioned already that crowds of people followed Jeshua. It had been happening from very early on in his public life. We know the impact his healings were having. Medicine was primitive in the first century so, once the word got around that Jeshua seemed to be healing people, crowds flocked to him. Some were coming a hundred miles or more (Mark 3:7-9).
Of course, unless they were rich they travelled on foot. If you live in London, for example, who would make you drive to Oxford or Birmingham in the hope of talking to them personally? Remember that you don’t have an appointment, you’ve never met them and you don’t know what they look like. Would you still go if you had to take unpaid leave? Would you still go if you had to walk three days each way to Birmingham and back, especially if you knew you might be robbed on the way? Lots of people thought Jeshua was worth the hassle and the risk.
The most obvious reason to us was because he was healing people. It’s an interesting word ‘healing’. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘cure’. It’s possible the witnesses saw Jeshua actually ‘curing’ people’s illnesses. How else would they interpret a man they knew was blind suddenly seeing again? Look behind some of the stories and one also sees the healing of mental wounds associated with poverty, illness and disability. That’s healing too.
For us healing is the easy part to understand but there was another side to Jeshua too: the political angle. Living under foreign military occupation the people yearned for their land to be free. Democracy might have been even scarcer then than now but they’d prefer their own monarch to a foreigner. A century or so earlier the Maccabees had successfully led Judean rebels against Syrian overlords. Judea was full of boys called ‘Judas’ in honour of Judas Maccabeus, one of the revolutionary leaders. Herod Antipas in Galilee was the latest of the dynasty they founded. Most people locally knew he was only in power now because he was a thug the Romans could trust to do their bidding. His claim to be messiah was (probably in secret) laughed at. The people wanted a messiah to banish the Romans as the Maccabees’ had the Syrians.
Had Jeshua done anything to make people think he was messiah? Every Jew knew that there were twelve tribes in ancient Israel. They roughly corresponded to the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob in the founding history of the Israelites. Ten tribes were lost when Assyrian invaders had carried them off several hundred years earlier. But the ancient prophets promised a restoration. The Jews hoped God would make Israel a great nation once again. So when Jesus called twelve of his disciples as ‘ apostles’ (Mark 2: 7-19, from the Greek for ‘to be sent out) the Jews heard that this wasn’t just about healing, or even spiritual restoration.
Jeshua was saying that this was the time to restore the nation at every level: physically, spiritually, and politically. Jesus had then spent years in the Galilean hills, shaping his followers into a revolutionary group. The people wondered and maybe hoped that now he was going to Jerusalem to join battle with the enemy.