The hideout. A desolate cave somewhere outside Jerusalem.
I lay huddled behind craggy rocks on Friday morning as the sun rose. This hideout was a family secret, a refuge in times of trouble. It had saved my ancestors’ lives in the Maccabean war. I looked over at my satchel of dried fruit and meat, enough food to last several weeks. By then I would have been able to escape out of Zechariah and Caiaphas’ reach.
I had to start over. Everything I’d identified with, everything I’d been, was gone. I was no longer a member of the Sanhedrin. I was no longer one of the most important Jews. I could no longer even identify primarily as a Jew. I would have to take on the identity of the new kingdom I would enter. But how could I? I knew that Jews were hated nearly universally.
I pondered my options. I could stay in Israel. However, Zechariah would almost certainly want to kill me.
If I left Israel, I could flee south to Egypt, east to Arabia, or north to Asia Minor. Or I could take a ship somewhere far away, perhaps even Britain. But nowhere would I be able to escape the anti-Semitism.
I sighed. I had dug myself into a deeper hole than I had anticipated with this whole Jesus thing.
Hours passed while I pondered and still could not escape reality. The sun now hovered perilously overhead. The thought suddenly struck me that it was a blazing serpent ready to strike. A feeling of impending doom hung in the air. Hearing voices suddenly approaching, I cautiously peeped over the rocks. A strange procession was winding out of the city and toward a hill. I knew that hill. Golgotha; the place of the skull. It was a common execution site, and sure enough, three bloodied men stumbled along near the head of the procession, hauling massive crosses.
What was out of place was the crowd. I had seen criminals—murderers, thieves, conspirators—carrying their crosses before. But what I had never seen before was hundreds—no, thousands—of the common folk streaming along behind. Something was clearly different this time. I watched for several minutes as my curiosity grew. The procession reached Golgotha. The men were nailed to their crosses; a brutal, sickening procedure.
Once the crosses were raised, my attention drifted to a group of black-robed figures standing close to the center cross. Were those the Pharisees? Could it really be?
Yes, that was definitely Zechariah. And there was Caiaphas. What were they doing? Were they mocking the man on the center cross? I rose to my feet as a thought struck me. Perhaps… perhaps if I joined them they would accept me. Maybe all was not lost. Maybe I could keep my position in the Sanhedrin. The next moment I was tearing down the rocky hillside at a reckless pace. Scrubby trees and jagged rocks shot past, ignored. I didn’t even know what was going through my mind. All I knew was that it immediately lifted all the burden and doubt off my shoulders.
I barely even noticed as the bright, devastating day suddenly dimmed ominously.
Ten minutes later, panting and sweaty, I stumbled up to the outskirts of the crowd. They were screaming insults.
“Excuse me, sir,” I addressed a burly middle-aged man. He didn’t seem to have heard me. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Excuse me, sir?” Still no response. I sighed in frustration and plucked his sleeve.
“Eh?” He asked, turning to me.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I began, “but what’s going on?”
He cocked his head sideways and grimaced at me. “Where’ve ya come from, under a rock or what? Don’t ya know? It’s that Jesus!” He turned back toward the center cross and began screaming insults again.
Jesus! So he had been arrested! I had always taken it for granted that he would not actually be condemned. But here he was on the cross! I took a closer look. The man was a bloody mess, so battered he barely even looked human. But it was definitely Jesus. I shoved through the crowd, trying to find the Pharisees. I needed answers.
I strained to catch sight of their black scarves. The crowd was so thick! Where had I seen the Pharisees? Oh yes, they were close to the cross. I made my way toward them. Before long, Zechariah was in my sights. I strode toward him rapidly.
“What is happening, Zechariah?” I demanded.
He whirled toward me with his eyebrows arched in surprise. “What do you think you’re doing here?”
“Asking questions!” I shot back.
He shrugged. “We needed to get Jesus out of the way. We were losing influence, and fast.”
“But killing a man who healed the lame and opened the eyes of the blind is a way to fix that problem?”
Zechariah leaned toward me with his teeth bared. “Don’t think we don’t know about your little games, Hilkiah. You’d better hope Jesus has attended to your legs and eyes if you want to live.”
The realization that your life is in dire danger makes whimpering cowards of some. It made me bolder than I’d ever been before.
“You would kill another member of the Sanhedrin?” I challenged Zechariah, stepping toward him involuntarily with my fists clenched.
“You see that man on the cross?” Zechariah growled. “We can kill Jesus of Nazareth; we can kill anyone. You’re a dead man already. Guards!”
Before I even realized what I was doing, Zechariah reeled back with blood pouring from his nostrils and three front teeth knocked out. I looked down at my bloody, mangled fist in surprise.
Then I took off running.
Scrambling over the bare rocks, I ran for my life. I glanced back over my shoulder. Half a dozen armed guards were in hot pursuit. I looked back ahead… and slammed into the crowd.
“Let me through!” I shouted frantically. “Please! Let me through!”
They glowered at me, unbudging, a solid human wall. They had seen everything. In desperation, I lunged toward the tiny gap between two men.
Then pain. Searing pain. I collapsed to the ground, clutching my bleeding arm. The snarling soldier yanked the spear out and poised it for another plunge. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind.
Suddenly the soldier paused. Slowly he turned around. Why had the crowd suddenly grown silent? Then I realized that I had risen to my feet as well. We were all staring at Jesus.
“Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani! My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” His agonized voice ripped through the dead, darkened air. Instantly I knew that the physical and psychological torture I was experiencing was nothing compared to what this innocent man was undergoing.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The thought left as quickly as it came, but at that moment I realized Micah had been right all along.
A loud cry rent the sky. “It is finished!” Then Jesus’ head slumped forward, and his whole body drooped.
Jesus was dead.
The ground shuddered. I lurched into another man and barely steadied myself before collapsing. Then another tremor. And another. Suddenly, with a rumbling roar, the whole hillside quaked violently. We were all thrown to the earth.
Crack! My forehead slammed into a stone. Blood dripped into my eyes. I saw the guards stumbling toward me, and forced myself to stand. I had taken just two steps down the hillside when another tremor flung me off my feet again. I tumbled head over heels down Golgotha. Finally I came to a halt on a patch of coarse grass. Too exhausted to rise, I sprawled out on the grass as darkness shrouded my vision and consciousness fled.