I recently enjoyed watching Risen, the latest high-quality Hollywood effort to re-create the last few days of the life of Jesus. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Risen only deals with the last day of Jesus’ life, plus the days following his resurrection.
It’s a good story and the producers did a fantastic job presenting a realistic version of a back-from-the-dead Jesus.
But not surprisingly, they missed one element that none of us have ever fully grasped.
There were a lot of people in Jerusalem the day Jesus died.
And I mean … a lot!
Scholars estimate that somewhere between 10 and 50 percent of the population was in Jerusalem for Passover in those years. The Temple Mount had been expanded to hold the holiday crowds. Roman rule made travel safer than ever. With an estimated 2 million people in Israel while Jesus was alive, the math paints a stunning picture.
Somewhere between 200,000 and 1 million people were in Jerusalem for Passover the year Jesus died!
All those family units enjoyed the Seder Meal the night before the crucifixion. When the sleepy city came to life the next morning, a chaotic noise told everyone that something had gone horribly wrong.
Indeed, the streets had been the scene of an early-morning, grotesque parade. Just outside one of the main city gates, three men were nailed to crosses and left to die.
One of them was a rabbi who didn’t deserve to be there.
How many saw the gruesome scene? How many parents tried to keep their children from seeing the Roman brutality? How many ran to the site praying it wasn’t true? Whatever we’ve seen in the church passion plays or even the expensive Hollywood movies, we’ve never really grasped the magnitude of the crowds.
Could there have really been hundreds of thousands of people in Jerusalem? Absolutely. Even today, communities knowing huge crowds are coming for political or sporting events can prepare for an influx of people. In terms of business, those communities actually look forward to the crowds.
The same would have been true for Jerusalem. Indeed, when Jesus entered town turning over tables at the Temple, he was hurting the biggest business in Jerusalem. Those who were losing profits did not take that crime lightly.
However many people were there to see Jesus die, what is without question is that there were eyewitnesses in town from all over Israel. As they returned home, they spread the news that the popular rabbi from Galilee had been executed during Passover.
Some of them had believed him to be the Messiah.
None of them would forget the day he had died. Whether they had ventured out to the very place of execution or simply glimpsed the scene from a distance, they would talk of what they’d seen for the rest of their lives.
Two days later, they would have an even more unusual twist to add to their story!