This Week's Focus Passage

Matthew 28:15 - ‘This saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day.’

Matthew 28:15 - ‘This saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day.’

A ‘famous,’ or ‘infamous,’ book, depending upon one’s point of view, was published in 1965; written by Hugh Schonfield. One individual offering comments upon the book, has said that, ‘It was written by the distinguished biblical scholar, Hugh Schonfield, but it read like a thriller.’ In this man’s further remarks, and in an attempt at something of a review, he offered the following description, or outline:

‘The central premise of “The Passover Plot” was that Jesus had meticulously planned and engineered his own death and resurrection. The author, himself a Jewish theologian, pointed out that Jesus was thoroughly familiar with the Hebrew Bible. Schonfield believed that his ambition was to strengthen faith and observance of religious teachings by offering himself as the Messiah.

According to Schonfield, the central mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection was carefully planned to fulfil biblical prophecies. His crucifixion was targeted for the day before the Jewish Passover in the knowledge that the bodies would be taken down before the Sabbath. A drug administered to Jesus, perhaps in the sponge mentioned in John 19:29, slowed his heartbeat and put him in a state of suspended animation. Friends and disciples had arranged to recover his body and start reanimation efforts as soon as possible. – The plan failed when a Roman soldier ran a spear into his side (John 19:34). The aftermath had to be improvised.’

It seems that Schonfield must have truly thought that he had hit upon something quite original, or newfangled with his speculations. But right here in our text for this week’s focus passage, we are taught that ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ Schonfield’s ‘Passover Plot’ is intimated clearly in the behavior, and directions of the chief priests and elders given to the Roman soldiers who were responsible for guarding the tomb. These soldiers had been placed as guards at the behest made to Pilate, which Matthew has also recorded in his account, at Matt. 27:62-66.

The chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, After three days I rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest haply his disciples come and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: and the last error will be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a guard: go, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, the guard being with them.

Of course, we know the sequel. The guards surely took the money and followed the directions given them by the priests and the elders. They likely required very little further persuasion; what probably sealed the deal was the promise that they would ‘rid them of care.’ The ‘much money’ would certainly have been of little benefit if they were seized by Pilate and executed for their failure in preventing the friends and disciples of this ‘deceiver’ to abscond with his body. This is precisely the fate of the guards that were, in Herod’s prison, set over Peter. After Peter had been liberated by an angel, Acts 12:19 informs us that when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death. This undoubtedly would have been also the fate of the tomb-guards unless someone ‘rid them of care’ over their admission of falling asleep on their watch. It comes as no great surprise then they would tell whatever story the priests and elders directed them to tell. Schonfield, however, does not have the excuse of a threat hanging over his head; why would he basically spread this same story? Perhaps, he truly believed it. In his review of a posthumously—Schonfield died in 1988, this book was published in 1997—published book of Schonfield’s, titled Proclaiming the Messiah, Robert M. Price sets forward some interesting observations about the author: he asserts that:

‘Those critics of the Passover Plot who pegged Schonfield as an unbeliever did not read him carefully. He was no unbeliever. He was just a heretic. And there was more heresy!! Schonfield was also a Spiritualist. He believed in parapsychology and mediumism, what is today called “channeling.” Spiritualism seemed to those who espoused it a scientific, empirical approach to something like the miraculous. Indeed, it is almost surprising that Schonfield did not interpret the resurrection of Jesus as Leslie D. Weatherhead did (The Resurrection of Christ in the Light of Modern Science and Psychical Research, 1959), as an ectoplasmic apparition. At any rate, Schonfield’s interest in parapsychology enabled him to take very seriously the charismatic phenomena of early Christianity, including the mystical experiences of Paul.”

The point that Robert Price makes, it would seem, in stating that Schonfield was not an unbeliever; he insists that he was a believer. But he was not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, but a believer in the Jewish Messiah; whoever he might turn out to be. A surprising hypotheses of Schonfield’s was that Saul of Tarsus first considered himself to be God’s Messiah, destined to bring the light of Judaism to the Gentiles.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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