Grades 3-6 for Sunday School:
The Life of Jesus Christ: Lesson 4
Triumph to Treachery
Author’s Notes: As we continue our series on the life of Christ, we’ll be briefly looking at one more exciting event in Jesus’ life. But this triumph will be quickly followed by a great turn in public sentiment, as the Jewish people choose to reject Jesus as their Messiah. Our lesson will focus on what turned those groups of people away from Christ. But we’ll also consider how God used it as part of His plan to bring salvation to the world.
Last week, we looked at the first and last miracles of Jesus that are recorded in John’s gospel. Can anyone remember what those were? Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and He brought His friend, Lazarus, back to life after he’d been dead four days.
Today, we’re going to be back in the gospel of John to witness a great turn in the tide of public opinion toward Jesus. As we looked at the miracles last week, we saw many people coming to see His miracles and believing on Him. Remember, John 11:45 said, “Then many of the Jews who came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.” The same had been true back at the wedding, and at many of the miracles Jesus had done.
And a very great excitement had built among the people following Lazarus resurrection; so much, that as Passover was approaching, and many people were coming to Jerusalem to prepare for the celebration, word began to spread of what Jesus had done for Lazarus, in Bethany. Then, when they heard that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, the enthusiastic crowd met Him on the way, waving palm branches, and cheering, “Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (John 12:13) The word “hosanna” literally means “oh save!” These were words from right out of the Psalms (Psalm 118:25-26). The people were acknowledging Jesus as their promised deliverer.
But not all of the people felt that way. In fact in our lesson today, we’re going to look at those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. And we’ll see that not only were their hearts turned against Jesus…they were also able to persuade many of those who had been waving their branches in praise of Jesus to harden their hearts, and reject Him as well.
Let’s look, today, at why some chose to reject Jesus as Messiah; how those events led to His crucifixion; and how it was all part of God the Father’s plan to redeem us.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for sharing with us Your perfect plan for our salvation. Please make it clear to each one who’s here, today. Give us ears to hear and hearts ready to follow You. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: The Life of Jesus Christ: Triumph to Treachery (from John 11 through 18, Matthew 26, and Mark 15)
We talked already about how many people reacted to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. For some, this miracle brought a great deal of excitement and anticipation. It was a sign to them that perhaps Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for.
(rejection by the religious rulers)
But there were others who didn’t quite see Jesus’ miracles the same way. Instead, they looked on Jesus and His miracles with suspicion and resentment. John’s first hint of their rejection of Jesus comes all the way back in chapter 3, when a man named Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He was a Pharisee, which meant he was one of their religious leaders. And early in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus came to talk with him. But we see in John 3:2 that he “came to Jesus by night.” Some have suggested that he did this because even this early in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees had already rejected Jesus’ claim to be their Messiah. So to avoid suspicion and possible persecution, Nicodemus came to Jesus when he wouldn’t be seen. It appears, later in the gospels, that Nicodemus was a true follower of Christ. But his coming at night was a good indication of where the Pharisees stood in their opinion of Jesus.
Why do you suppose they didn’t want to accept Jesus as the Messiah that they knew had been promised? We find a clear reason in John 11:47-48.
“Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” (John 11:47-48)
The Pharisees were very much respected in the Jewish community. They knew all of the Old Testament laws, and generally did their best to keep them. But they had also, over time, interpreted God’s laws into stricter guidelines than what God had intended. They tended to focus on the “letter of the law” (in other words, strictest adherence to its exact wording), rather than the “spirit of the law,” or what God meant. And in many instances, they were obeying their own laws while doing so for all the wrong reasons. They hoped that their obedience gave them favor with God, and would get them into Heaven. And they had also learned that it impressed the people, too. The Pharisees, along with priests and scribes, were given honored positions at feasts and celebrations. And they looked down with scorn on those they considered “sinners” around them.
During His ministry, Jesus confronted this group directly, addressing them as children of Satan, and accusing them of great hypocrisy. For example, Jesus healed several people on the Sabbath Day. And God had said no one was to do any work on the Sabbath. So the Pharisees and rulers of the synagogues interpreted Jesus’ miracle as disobedience to God’s law. But Jesus pointed out to them that helping another person on the Sabbath is certainly not breaking God’s law. (If time permits, you can read one of these accounts in Mark 3:1-6.)
This teaching challenged the authority of the Pharisees and rulers. And as a result, following the healing of a paralyzed man on the Sabbath, “the Pharisees went forth and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.” (Mark 3:6) They were not willing to consider their own faults, since it might mean losing their prominent place in society. Not to mention the fact that Jesus was challenging the way they thought they were getting into Heaven.
This group carefully considered who Jesus claimed to be, and understood what He had taught. But they found that it challenged their very way of life. To accept Jesus as Messiah would mean they might lose all that they had worked so hard to achieve…the praise of men. They were not willing to rethink all they had come to believe about earning a place in Heaven. And certainly refused to accept that Jesus is, “…the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) The Pharisees wanted no part of that plan…God’s plan.
Is that true of people today? Are there some who know that the Bible says that Jesus is the Way, but they know it would mean they would have to change things in their lives, and aren’t willing to do that. If so, Jesus’ response to them might be this, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Luke 11:44)
(rejection by those who believed)
But not all of the religious rulers dismissed Jesus’ claim to be their Messiah. There were some who did believe. But when it came time to make a choice to stand up for Jesus, and what they believed about Him, they wouldn’t do it. And perhaps that rejection was the saddest rejection of all. They had heard the truth and believed it. But they weren’t willing to change their lives for Jesus. Listen to what John tells us about this group who also ultimately rejected Jesus.
42Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:
43For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
Peer pressure can be a powerful force. We see in these verses that these chief rulers believed. But there were two reasons why, in the end, they rejected Jesus as their Savior. What were those reasons?
These rulers knew very well that if they publicly confessed their faith in Jesus, the other rulers, who didn’t believe in Jesus, would drive them out of the synagogues. And not only were the synagogues a place of worship, but all of Jewish life was centered there. They would not only be left out of public worship (of the very God they were now rejecting), they would also be left out of any social interaction in the community. That is why Jesus had said just a few verses earlier, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (John 12:25)
Jesus wanted them to know that He fully understood the sacrifice they would be making in following Him. But He also wanted them to know that their sacrifice in this life would be well worth it in the life to come. Unfortunately, people often can’t see past what’s right in front of them. They want the praise they can see and hear from men instead of promises of eternal blessings, in the future. And they certainly don’t want to have to suffer for those invisible blessings.
And when it came right down to it, the truth in their hearts was revealed in the second reason for their rejection. They, like the Pharisees, loved the praise of men more than that from God. Pride is the downfall of so many people. It makes us feel so good for others to tell us how wonderful and important we are. But the book of Proverbs promises us that “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) In the end, when these rulers who once believed on Jesus stand before Him for judgment, their pride in loving the praise of men is what will condemn them, along with the unbelieving Pharisees, to Hell. True, saving faith in Jesus would have given them the courage to stand up to the Pharisees.
There are places in our world today, where people still face this same choice. If they publicly follow Jesus Christ, they may be asked to leave their homes and families. Some are put into prison. Some are even killed for professing their love for God. Do you think you would be able to stand up for Jesus under such circumstances? Or would you be like those rulers who believed, but fell short of confessing Jesus as Savior?
(rejection by a trusted friend)
Then, perhaps the most well known rejection of all came from someone who was supposed to be one of Jesus’ most loyal and trusted friends. The name “Judas” is still often associated with treachery and betrayal.
Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples specially chosen by Jesus to accompany Him in His ministry here on earth. But from the very beginning of the gospels, the only references to Judas include the fact that he was a traitor. Jesus no doubt knew Judas inside and out. But He continued to include Judas in His group of disciples, right up until the time that Judas sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver.
Why would a man do such a thing? Judas devoted three complete years of his life to following Jesus. He would have slept where Jesus slept; eaten where Jesus ate; heard what Jesus spoke; and saw the many miracles that persuaded others that Jesus truly was the Messiah. But Judas’ heart was not persuaded. When the opportunity arose, Judas used his relationship with Jesus to put a little money in his pocket. Does anyone know what Judas did to betray Jesus? Let’s read a few Scripture passages to find out.
14Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,
15And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
16And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.
Everyone knew, towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, that the Jewish leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus. Eleven of the disciples did their best to protect Him, encouraging Him not to go into Jerusalem when they knew it would be dangerous. But Judas Iscariot saw an opportunity to feel important in the sight of the religious rulers, and make a little money at the same time. So what did he promise the chief priests he would do? (deliver Jesus to them)
As Jesus’ final Passover approached, and He knew it was time to lay down His life, Jesus let Judas know that He was aware of the plot. When Judas realized that, he put his plan in motion to deliver on his promise to the chief priests.
21When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
22Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.
26Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
27And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly…
30He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.
After Judas left the supper, Jesus shared some final thoughts with the remaining disciples, trying to prepare them for the difficult days ahead. Then,
(John 18:1-5, 12-14)
1When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.
2And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.
3Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
4Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
5They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
12Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,
13And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year.
14Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
Judas’ betrayal was particularly hurtful, as he used his close relationship with Jesus, and what He knew about Jesus’ normal habits, to lead the soldiers right to Him. Then, according to the gospel of Matthew (6:47-49), Judas used a kiss to indicate to the soldiers who they should arrest.
So Judas’ betrayal led directly to the arrest of Jesus by the soldiers sent from the Jewish chief priests and Pharisees. And it was those same chief priests who, at Jesus’ trial, stirred up the Jewish people for a final great rejection of their Messiah.
(rejection by God’s chosen people) John 1:11
John 1:11 says Jesus “… came unto his own, and his own received him not.” And that perfectly describes the scene at Jesus’ trial before the Roman governor, Pilate. Jesus had been shuffled back and forth between the Jewish rulers and Pilate. And Pilate, sensing Jesus’ innocence, sought for a way to release Him. But when he offered to release one prisoner, a custom that was meant to appease the Jews under Roman occupation, the Jewish people asked to have a wicked criminal named Barabbas released, rather than Jesus.
When Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem only days earlier, the crowd had cheered for Him as their savior. But they were looking for someone to save them from Roman rule, and to bring prosperity back to their land. Once they realized that Jesus had no intention of doing such things, but had, in fact, come to save them from their own sin, the people no longer wanted Him as their Messiah.
And when it came time for their final verdict on Jesus, we’ll see that the crowd had some additional help with their decision.
9But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
10For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
11But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
12And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13And they cried out again, Crucify him.
14Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.
15And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
And so, following rejection by the jealous Pharisees, the fearful chief rulers, one of His own disciples, and finally the Jewish nation, Jesus headed to a gruesome death by crucifixion on a cross. Next week, we’re going to take a closer look at His death on the cross, and then His greatest miracle of all…conquering Satan and death through His own resurrection.
But as we close our lesson for today, my question for you is… why? Why did Jesus have to go through such painful rejection here on earth? Why would Jesus allow someone to get close to Him, knowing that he would eventually betray Him, as Judas did? Why would God’s plan include rejection by the very people He had chosen as His very own?
It all goes back to God’s love for us, and His great desire to provide salvation for the entire world. If the Pharisees and chief rulers had embraced Jesus as their Messiah, and Judas had not betrayed Jesus, then the Jewish people would have wanted to crown Him king. They would never have handed Him over to be crucified; and He wouldn’t have died on the cross. Jesus’ death and the shedding of His blood is the sacrifice that paid the debt for our sins. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that “…without shedding of blood is no remission.” And even the Jews’ rejection was important. Because they did not accept Him, His sacrifice was then made available for the rest of the world. And if you don’t happen to be Jewish…that’s great news!
However, Jesus’ blood sacrifice doesn’t automatically save everyone. We have a part, too. Romans 10:13 reminds us that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” God’s gift of salvation is just that…a gift. It isn’t ours until we call on Him and accept it.
Have you accepted that gift? If you have, then you can thank God today for all that He was willing to go through so that we could be saved. If you have not yet accepted that gift, won’t you do that today? It means acknowledging that you are a sinner, and that on your own you can’t do anything to get rid of that sin. And understanding that your sin will separate you, forever, from God. But then realizing that Jesus’ death on the cross, and His resurrection paid the price for that sin. And that if you will turn away from your life of sin (that’s what it means to “repent”), and invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life (Romans 10:9-10), then God will apply the blood of Jesus to your heart, and cleanse you from your sin, making you part of His family.
And if you have not yet done that, don’t put it off. Satan wants nothing more than for you to think that you have all the time in the world to make such an important decision. He wants you to walk away today and forget all about what you’ve learned about what Jesus went through for us. But Satan is a deceiver. And we never know how long we might have. Let’s close with one final verse:
“…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2b)
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, we first need to thank You for the incredible sacrifice that provided our salvation, not only in Jesus’ death, but also in the rejection He had to endure to lead Him to that point. We love you, Lord, for being willing to do that for us! And if there’s anyone here who has not yet taken that gift for themselves, help them to clearly see their need for Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for their sins. And give them the courage and desire to step out in faith to invite You into their hearts and lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. Judas Iscariot was the disciple who betrayed Jesus. (true)
2. Judas was a late addition to the group of disciples. (false – there from the beginning)
3. Jesus knew of Judas’ plot to betray Him. (true)
4. Judas was rewarded with money for betraying Jesus. (true)
5. Judas brought soldiers to the upper room where Jesus was having supper with the disciples. (false - he brought them to the garden)
6. Jesus’ rejection was all part of God’s plan for our salvation. (true)
Jesus had to suffer rejection so that we could be accepted by His Father.
Jesus had to shed His sinless blood so that ours could be declared clean.
Jesus had to die for us to have eternal life.
Jesus now lives so that we won’t have to die in our sins.
Lisa DeVinney, March 14, 2021