The Jewish High Priests and the Roman government were working together to try to eliminate Jesus and his growing movement. The Jewish High Priests saw Jesus' teachings as threatening the stability of their organizations. In other words, these ecclesiastical (professional) priests were worried that the movement would steal parishioners away from their temples. And since their salaries were paid from the tithings of these parishioners (some forced, as Jesus had spoke of the priests confiscating widows' inheritances (Mark 12:40), they felt threatened by Jesus.
The Romans cooperated with the Jewish temple priests for the purpose of keeping the society in check. They occupied the region and collected taxes from the people to maintain their excessive lifestyles in Rome. Scholarly sources indicate that the Jewish priests brought their concerns about Jesus' teachings before Pontius Pilate, who was the magistrate or prefect of Judea, in charge of governing the region. Pilate's responsibility was to keep the occupied state peaceful and producing income for the Romans. Thus Pilate needed to support the High Priests' concerns about Jesus to avoid a Jewish uprising (which did occur a couple of decades later).
So there was a lot of pressure put upon Jesus' followers by the Jewish officials, supported by the Roman officials. With Jesus' arrest, many of his disciples ran off to avoid their own arrest. That is, with the exception of the devoted Mary Magdalene, who sat under Jesus' cross.
Jesus utilizes a part of a verse from Zechariah 13:7 in his statement. While ecclesiastical sectarian teachers have misconstrued that this meant Zechariah was predicting Jesus' arrest and subsequent murder at the hands of the Romans and Jewish high priests, this is not consistent with the rest of Zechariah's scroll. Rather, Zechariah's scroll describes a tumultuous event that has nothing to do with Jesus being arrested. We can easily see this from the verses surrounding Zech. 13:7:
"On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his prophetic vision. He will not put on a prophet's garment of hair in order to deceive. He will say, 'I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth.' If someone asks him, 'What are these wounds on your body?' he will answer, 'The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.' "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the LORD Almighty. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land," declares the LORD, "two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" (Zech. 13:4-9)The details of the violent calamity are described in verses just preceding these:
"I [God speaking] am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem." (Zech. 12:2)and
"On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume right and left all the surrounding peoples, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place." (Zech. 12:6)These are not the events that occurred when Jesus was arrested and tried. Rather, Zechariah is describing a violent overthrow of the kingdom of Judah that was to occur in future years - before the arrival of Jesus. Zechariah lived in the Sixth Century BCE. During this century, Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuchadnezzar II attacked and pillaged Jerusalem and Judah multiple times. Following these, many of their inhabitants fled to surrounding regions. Jerusalem and Judah were also attacked by Artaxerxes III in 350 BCE. He arrested and killed many Jews, and imprisoned many.
In all, Jerusalem was attacked or besieged at least 75 different times over the centuries. It has been completely burnt down at least twice. It has undergone a change of rule at least 44 times. Judah has also undergone many sieges, often at the same time.
Zechariah was not predicting Jesus' arrest and trial in those verses.
Why did Jesus use Zechariah's verse then? Jesus was illustrating, using scripture, one of the tests the Supreme Being puts in front of those (such as Jesus' followers) who begin their path towards resuming their relationship with Him.
Each of us has choices to make with our lives. These choices determine whether we return to our relationship with God or not. Those who begin their journey are often tested.
Testing our dedication is necessary for our spiritual growth. Testing, in fact, is common amongst most relationships. When a man decides to have a relationship with a woman, he is often tested with options to go out with other women. His resisting those tests provides part of the glue of his relationship with the woman.
Now consider if a man and a woman have a long-term relationship, and the man runs off with another woman. After a couple of years, the man comes back to the woman, asking for her forgiveness and if he can return to their relationship. Will the woman drop everything and embrace him as she had before?
Not likely. The woman will most likely, assuming she wants to resume their relationship at all, go slowly. She wants to see how serious he really is. This 'going slowly' serves as the first test, because if the man isn't serious, he'll get frustrated and run off again.
The Supreme Being also tests someone asking to return to Him - after we abandoned Him as we have done in our past. He will also go slowly, in addition to putting in front of us numerous tests. Because the Supreme Being also happens to control everything, He designs challenges that specifically test (and reveal) our unique weaknesses. This is designed to increase our sincerity. And should we fail a type of test, we'll likely be retested.
In the beginning, the tests will be fairly basic. As the student progresses, the tests become more difficult. The tests perfectly reflect our individual level of advancement and particular weaknesses.
Even when we fail a test, God never gives up on us. The tests reveal our own weaknesses, which allow us to grow and become spiritually stronger. This is what occurred amongst Jesus' students. They were tested, and most did not pass. Yet both Jesus and God forgave them, and they each learned a great lesson.
Many ecclesiastical sectarian teachers gloss over the thrust of these events while they attempt to tie every Old Testament's prophet to predicting Jesus. This is due to their lack of understanding of the position and authority of those prophets. Because they do not perceive Jesus as he is, they tow the institutional line intended to try to prove how great Jesus was. This is because those institutional teachers didn't know how great Jesus really was. So they had to make it seem that he was great.
Organized ecclesiastical sectarianism, propped up by the Roman government a couple of centuries after Jesus, focused on this methodology as they twisted scripture to control the population.
This "prediction" interpretation of the prophets is still dominant today among ecclesiastical sectarian institutions, who twist and bend the various verses of the Old Testament - and the teachings of these ancient teachers - to point to Jesus' appearance and his subsequent sacrifice on the cross. Meanwhile, they disregard the very teachings that Jesus devoted his life to and gave his life for.
Instead of hearing Jesus' teachings, they put forth an grotesque thesis that the purpose of Jesus' life was to die on the cross for our sins. They profess that all we have to do is "accept that Jesus died for my sins" and we are saved.
This not only contradicts Jesus' very teachings, but it contradicts the teachings of all the ancient teachers ("prophets") who beseeched their students - and all of us - to love God and do God's will, and re-develop our relationship with God.
Why would the Romans of the third century on, together with their propped up church institution want to gloss over this, and twist the meaning of Jesus life and teachings like this?
They wanted to collect lots of followers. And they did. So they created an easy process that requires no real difficulty. They proposed that all we have to do is join the church, get baptized, pledge our allegiance to the cross, and proclaim that "Jesus died for my sins" - and don't forget the tithings - and we are saved.
This process does not require a change of heart. It does not require years of training under a spiritual teacher. It does not require determination and ongoing dedication by devoutly re-arranging our lives to put God first. It does not require us to change our consciousness from being self-centered to being God-centered.
Despite the glossing over of Jesus' teachings by ecclesiastical sectarian priests and reverends, we can see that Jesus oversaw the development of his students' spiritual growth by maintaining disciplined devotional practices. This is indicated throughout the books of the new testament, and evidenced by the description of what Jesus and his disciples did after the "last supper" and just prior to the statement above:
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 26:30)What does "sung a hymn" mean? It means they devoutly practiced praising God and His Holy Names after dinner. This wasn't a weekly ceremony. This was a continual devotional regimen. And this was what Jesus' taught and practiced - consistent with the teachings of the ancient "prophets" - in order to bring about a change of consciousness amongst his students.
This thesis of "Jesus died for my sins" bypasses the process of changing our hearts. This was formulated because it made it easy to join the church, where people could be controlled and manipulated by the Roman Catholic church's governance. This governance continued in modern times as priests used their authority to sexually abuse their parishioners, while the institution protected those abusive priests.
Jesus never taught that all we have to do is wait until his body died on the cross and acknowledge that he died for our sins and then we are saved. He taught his students to change their consciousness from being servants of "mammon" to loving servants of God:
"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon." (Luke 16:9)It is not easy to change. One must undergo significant devotional work and await gradual change to adjust our consciousness from lovers of materialism ("mammon") to lovers of God.
It is way easier to continue our self-centered behavior, and go to church every Sunday and make a proclamation that "Jesus died for my sins." This formula was a great strategy for collecting followers back then, and it still is today.
Jesus taught that we need to change from being servants of materialism ("mammon") to becoming loving servants of God. It means doing the hard work to change our consciousness. It means being tested. It means humbly getting back up and dusting ourselves off when we fail our tests - just as Jesus' disciples did - and continuing the devotional process, in order to change our hearts from loving ourselves above all else to loving God above all else:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)