Okay, along comes this person who says and does things that is contrary to what you believe; what you have accepted your whole life. And the people love him; the people listen with rapt attention to everything that comes out of his mouth. His words and actions stomp all over your traditions. And maybe, there is also a loss of power. The people used to come to you for answers. No longer. It is an undermining of all your authority. And that is not all. You honestly fear that the government is going to get involved, maybe even shut you down. You are afraid of what seems irreverence; you are afraid of what feels like a slashing at the teachings of your ancestors; you are afraid that the power of the government is going to come crashing down on the whole of it all; you are afraid of the gullibility of the masses. What do you do? How can you protect everything you love? Well, clearly, this Jesus has to go.
In Luke 19:47-48 we are told of the reaction of the Jewish leaders to the teaching of Jesus. One source claims that Luke makes no connection between this reaction and the cleansing of the temple. Mark makes a clearer connection. But that this follows directly after the cleansing of the temple probably is intended to be a connection. Their authority is being challenged. That is at least part of what is going on here. So, we begin with Jesus teaching daily in the temple. This is more than convenience. Even though Jesus foretold of its destruction, he loved his Father’s house. After all, that is why he drove out the sellers and rebuked those who had turned it into a den of robbers. It may also have to do with passages such as Psalm 2:6 (“But as for me, I have installed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain”) and Isaiah 52:7 (“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”). The word Zion sometimes refers to Jerusalem and sometimes to the temple. So, maybe, just maybe mind you, Jesus is teaching in the temple because it has prophetic significance.
The chief priests and the scribes and the first among the people were seeking to kill Jesus. I am confident that we are intended to see the Sanhedrin in this description. The Sanhedrin was the most authoritative and important governing body among the Jews. Usually it is designated as the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. It has been suggested, and seems likely, that Luke uses “first among the people” in order to set up a comparison between the leaders of the people and the people themselves. This is the religious elite; the well-educated; the steeped in tradition important leaders. Why do they want Jesus dead? There are probably many reasons behind their desire. Jesus has a large following among the people. In the vernacular of the religious elite, the people often meant the rabble, the uneducated, the easily duped dupes. So, of course, they are taken in with this charlatan. But it was frustrating and scary because you never know how much damage a person can do with the masses behind them. Jesus also disrupted the status quo. He did things on the Sabbath that they had deemed inappropriate. He openly ate with known sinners and tax collectors instead of doing the decent thing and avoiding them. Not only did Jesus do these things, he criticized the status quo and the religious leaders to the public. And most likely these bastions of piety were genuinely afraid of Rome. And yes, this fear may have been about losing their comfortable positions. But if Rome stepped in many will be crushed. So, there’s that.
So, they were seeking to kill. But they could not find how they could accomplish it. There were probably many reasons for this, but the one Luke tells us is that the people, the rabble, hung on his every word. There he was right in their comfortable religious backyard teaching every day and they could not find their opportunity. All because the religiously uneducated were so easily led astray by a shared table and profound sounding words and stories. How frustrating it must have been.
If our sense of religion leads to a seeking to kill, there is a problem with our religion. If our sense of propriety is all about hating and maligning and killing, then our sense is seared. And before we jump all over these religious leaders, I have seen religious leaders act in similar ways and for similar reasons. And in the process, they are missing the heart of God in the name of religious purity. And here’s the thing; if we long to be the elite, we will always be filled with jealousy and hatred for those who are loved by the rabble. Be the rabble and learn and draw closer to God.