The threads of the story draw together now. The authorities have taken their stand against Jesus, and have moved from being disgruntled and upset about him to actively plotting to kill him. Jesus' disciples are nervous, even terrified, but even more they are clueless and simply trying to follow faithfully. Judas steps up to be the tool of Jesus' betrayal, willingly putting himself in the breach between the Jewish authorities and their plots and Jesus' last few days of human freedom before his death.
What of Jesus? Do we see Jesus as a victim or victor here? In the way of biblical truth, Jesus is both. Biblical truth is usually paradoxical; we must not choose a middle ground that reconciles the extremes, but rather live in both ends of the extremes at once. Most of the classic arguments of Christian theology find their best solutions in this methodology. Take, for example, the ongoing debate in our day between those who say God is absolutely sovereign and all is predetermined, on one hand, and those who say we are free to choose salvation on the other. Sometimes these positions are labeled Calvinism and Arminianism, though I'm of course caricaturing both without doing justice to either. But I know several prominent Christian schools that expect their students to choose, and thereby to align themselves with one or the other. How can we do this? The only way to do Christian theology in a biblical way is to live at both extremes. Of course God's sovereignty extends to the movement of every atom in the universe. Of course God has given us mind-boggling freedom to choose. If we let go of either extreme, our theology quickly becomes twisted and unbiblical.
Jesus here is absolutely a victim. He is the innocent lamb, about to be taken by the powers, run through an illegal sham of a trial, and sacrificed through the machinations of the Roman overseers. Satan will have a field day manipulating the temple authorities, the Roman governor, the disciples, Judas, and all the rest. How can you read this story and not have a terrible, pit-of-the-stomach sense of revulsion and hopelessness in the face of such injustice, such brutality, such horror?
But Jesus is the victor. Like Aslan knowing the deeper magic of the Stone Table, Jesus deftly navigates the machinations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. He has carefully arranged allies in key positions that will allow him to fulfill the scriptures, to tie together the threads of the Passover into a simple meal of bread and wine that he will bequeath to his followers in the night in which he is betrayed. He directs Peter and John to the upper room like a spymaster, knowing the hours are counting down and he will soon give himself to those who will beat and crucify him. He is absolutely powerless and absolutely in control.
There is hope for us in seeing Jesus in this biblical way. We have freedom to create webs of sin and error, intrigue and entropy, and we deal with the consequences of our own actions. We bear our sin and its fathomless stupidity. At the same time, Jesus, the Crucified One, lives to pardon us, to wipe our slates clean, to speak a new identity into our poisonous webs: There is therefore now no condemnation. Find yourself in me. Know yourself through my Father's words. You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.
Both are true. You are a sinner, deserving of complete condemnation. You are completely free, exalted in Christ to complete innocence before your heavenly Father.
You say you can't reconcile these extremes? Don't try. Hold them in tension, rather, and use each to respond to the other. When you wake up and see only ugliness in the mirror, hear the words of Jesus calling you his beloved. When you exult in your achievements and your holiness, be reminded that you are completely undeserving, saved only by the goodness of God's grace.