By Gregg Bing
(Continued from Nov-Dec 2012 issue)
The Jewish Sanhedrin charged Jesus with blasphemy and condemned Him to death, but, being under Roman rule, they had no authority to execute anyone without the consent of the Roman governor, so they bound Jesus and led Him away to the Praetorium to stand trial before Pontius Pilate (Matt. 27:2).
The word Praetorium referred to the headquarters of a Roman camp, typically the tent of the commander-in-chief. In the case of a Roman governor (or procurator), the position held by Pontius Pilate, it was often an existing palace once used by a displaced king or prince. In Jerusalem, it was the magnificent palace Herod the Great had built for himself (Acts 23:35). The Praetorium served as the governor’s courtroom or hall of judgment (Thayer’s Greek Dictionary).
The Jews refused to enter the Praetorium fearing they might be defiled and made unfit to “eat the Passover” (John 18:28). The word Passover, as used here, does not refer to the Passover meal eaten by the Jews on the 14th of Nisan (Lev. 23:5); this is what Jesus had celebrated with His twelve apostles the previous night (Luke 22:15). The term Passover was also used, at times, to refer to the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread which began the next day, on the 15th of Nisan (Lev. 23:6-8). This first day of the feast was a “high day,” meaning it was a special Sabbath day as opposed to a weekly Sabbath (John 19:31). The Jews wanted to ensure they were clean and could eat throughout this seven day feast (2 Chron. 30:21-22).
What hypocrisy by Israel’s religious leaders; worried about ceremonially defiling themselves, while plotting to put an innocent Man to death. This demonstrates why Jesus called them, “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:23-24).
The Jews Accuse Jesus
Pilate went out to the Jewish rulers and asked, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” (John 18:29). They answered, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you” (John 18:30). Pilate, at the outset, had no desire to sit in judgment over Jesus. He told the Jews, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law,” but the Jews answered, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31). All these things happened “that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die” (John 18:32).
If the Jews had had the authority to put Jesus to death themselves, He would have been stoned for His supposed blasphemy (Lev. 24:16), but this was not how Jesus was to die. A thousand years prior to these events, the Holy Spirit, through the prophet David, gave details about how Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die: bones out of joint, heart melted like wax, strength dried up, tongue clinging to the jaws, surrounded by crowds of onlookers, hands and feet pierced (Psa. 22:14-16)—all things a person experiences during crucifixion. Jesus Himself indicated how He would die the day He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32-33). Jesus had to be lifted up on a cross (John 3:14), therefore, He was delivered into the hands of the Romans because they executed criminals by crucifixion.
Jewish law does speak of those who were hanged on a tree: “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree … he who is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. 21:22-23). As sinners, we, too, are “deserving of death” (Rom. 6:23a) and are under its curse. Christ came to rescue us from this curse by taking it upon Himself. Paul told the Galatians: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Gal. 3:13).
The chief priests and elders began to accuse Jesus before Pilate, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). This accusation had nothing to do with blasphemy, which was the Sanhedrin’s charge against Jesus. They realized Pilate would have no interest in Jesus’ claims to be God; that was a religious issue. They focused, instead, on Jesus’ claims to be King; something they knew would get the attention of the Roman governor. These men cared nothing for justice; they only wanted to make sure Jesus would die.
The Jewish leaders did not stop at saying Jesus claimed to be a King; they alleged He was also perverting the entire nation of Israel, forbidding the people to pay taxes to Caesar. These charges were clearly false; Jesus paid His own taxes to Caesar (Matt. 17:24-27), and when questioned by the Herodians about paying taxes, Jesus told them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:17-21). The truth meant nothing to these wicked men, especially if it interfered with their scheme to destroy Jesus.
Pilate Interrogates Jesus
Having heard the charges against Jesus, Pilate took Him inside the Praetorium and asked, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33). Jesus answered, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” (John 18:34). Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have you done?” (John 18:35). Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Jesus was the Christ, the One anointed by God to be Israel’s King, but His kingdom was not like worldly kingdoms; His kingdom would be established in a different way and at a different time.
Jesus’ answer must have confused Pilate, because he asked Him to clarify, “Are You a king then?” Jesus said, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Pilate responded, “What is truth?” It’s likely Pilate asked this question with a sarcastic tone of voice, as if to say, “Who can know what is true?” Pilate wasn’t interested in knowing the truth; he did not even wait for Jesus to answer but “went out again to the Jews” (John 18:38).
Standing before Jesus’ accusers once more, Pilate declared, “I find no fault in Him at all.” The chief priests were unmoved and continued to “accuse Him of many things, but Jesus answered nothing.” Pilate asked Jesus, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against you!” Nevertheless, Jesus remained silent, “so that Pilate marveled” (Mark 15:3-5). The prophet Isaiah testified that Israel’s Messiah would respond this way: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
The Jewish leaders argued more fiercely, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.” When they mentioned Galilee, Pilate asked if Jesus were a Galilean. If Jesus was from Galilee, then “He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction.” Pilate seized the opportunity to get rid of this bothersome case, and he immediately sent Jesus to Herod, who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time (Luke 23:5-7).
Jesus Questioned by Herod
Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee (Luke 3:1). This was the same Herod who, at the insistence of his wife, Herodias, had John the Baptist beheaded (Matt. 14:3-12). Herod was thrilled to have Jesus brought before him, for he “had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Jesus, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.” Herod would be sadly disappointed, however. Not only did Jesus not perform any miracles, He also refused to answer any of Herod’s many questions. Even as “the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him,” Jesus, once again, said nothing (Luke 23:8-10).
Both Herod and his men of war treated Jesus with contempt. They “arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe,” mocking His claim to be the King of the Jews (Luke 23:11). The family of Herod was not Jewish; they were Idumeans or Edomites, descendants of Esau. The Romans had appointed their family to serve as the Jew’s king many years earlier. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great was king in Judea. While Herod Antipas was only tetrarch of Galilee, it still must have given him great satisfaction to see Jesus in chains and on trial for His life. The response of these godless men toward the sinless Son of God was just as Isaiah had prophesied: “He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3).
After he had entertained himself and his servants by deriding Jesus this way, Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod “had been at enmity with each other,” but that day they became friends; possibly because Pilate acknowledged Herod’s authority over Galilee by sending Jesus to him for trial (Luke 23:12); possibly because they agreed about Jesus’ innocence, something that clearly frustrated the Jewish rulers.
“I Find No Fault in Him”
When Jesus was returned to the Praetorium, Pilate gathered the chief priests and Jewish rulers before him saying, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (Luke 23:13-16). Neither Pilate nor Herod found Jesus guilty of any wrongdoing, but Pilate, whose job was to keep the peace, sought to placate the anger of the Jews by agreeing to chastise Jesus before letting Him go.
Pilate knew the Jewish leaders had delivered Jesus into his hands because of envy.
- THEY WERE ENVIOUS OF HIS POPULARITY. The Jewish rulers, particularly the Pharisees, loved the attention and praise of men (Matt. 23:5-7), something they were in danger of losing after Jesus began His public ministry. His powerful teaching and amazing miracles, especially His ability to heal, led multitudes of the Jews to follow Jesus and even to wonder, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matt. 12:23).
- THEY WERE ENVIOUS OF HIS WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE. These religious men had trained in the best schools under the most prestigious rabbis, whereas Jesus had no formal training in the Law or the traditions of the elders. In spite of this, Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures far exceeded their own, and His superior wisdom was evident every time they questioned Him.
- THEY WERE ENVIOUS OF HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. These self-righteous men prided themselves on being blameless according to the Law of Moses, but there was no comparison between their righteousness and that of the Lord Jesus. Though they brought many accusations against Jesus, they had no real proof to convict Him of any sin (John 8:46).
The Jewish rulers remained adamant that Jesus was deserving of death, nevertheless, Pilate believed he had a way to secure Jesus’ release.
Jesus or Barabbas?
It was the custom of the Roman governor, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to release to the Jews one prisoner of their choosing. At that time, the Romans had in custody a “notorious prisoner called Barabbas” (Matt. 27:16). Barabbas was a thief and a rebel who had even committed murder during a recent uprising against Rome (Mark 15:7). Pilate’s plan was to offer the Jews a choice to free Jesus or Barabbas, assuming they would not want a vile man like Barabbas released from prison.
While Pilate was “sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him'” (Matt. 27:19). God had communicated to people in the past using dreams; not just His own people, such as Joseph and Daniel, but even heathens, such as the Egyptian Pharaoh (Gen. 41:25) and King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:28). This time, God spoke to Pilate’s wife through a dream, impressing upon her that Jesus was a righteous Man. She was so distressed by this dream, that she publicly warned Pilate to have no part in condemning Jesus.
When the Jewish multitude cried aloud for Pilate to follow the custom and release a prisoner, Pilate asked them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Mark 15:8, Matt. 27:17). Pilate expected the Jewish multitude to ask for Jesus’ release, but the chief priests and elders “stirred up the crowd” and “persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (Matt. 27:20). Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all cried out, “Let Him be crucified!” This vicious outcry against an obviously innocent Man stunned Pilate, who demanded, “Why, what evil has He done?” But the crowds insisted, demanding with loud voices, “Let Him be crucified!” (Matt. 27:21-23).
Hearing the unrelenting cries of the Jews, Pilate knew he would never convince them to free Jesus, but he did not want to be held accountable for this injustice. Pilate, therefore, brought a basin of water out and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:24-25).
Pilate bowed to their wishes, releasing to them Barabbas and delivering Jesus “to their will” (Luke 23:24).
Jesus is Scourged
Pilate then “took Jesus and scourged Him” (John 19:1); this was a preliminary stage in most Roman executions. A scourging was a flogging inflicted with a short whip consisting of several leather straps with sharp pieces of bone, metal, or rock attached to them. Scourging was a brutal punishment that lacerated the victim’s skin. The Jews also scourged criminals, but they inflicted no more than forty stripes (2 Cor. 11:24); the Romans, who were known for their cruelty, had no such limitation. Isaiah had prophesied that the Christ would endure this painful torture on our behalf: “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
After the scourging, Pilate’s soldiers took Jesus back inside the Praetorium, out of the view of the crowds. The whole garrison surrounded Jesus and began to taunt and ridicule Him. They stripped Him of His clothes and put a purple robe on Him; they twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head; and they placed a reed for a scepter in His right hand. They bowed down before Jesus and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Afterward, “they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head” (Matt. 27:27-30).
Pilate went back out and stood before the multitudes, saying, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him” (John 19:4). Jesus came out, still wearing the purple robe and the crown of thorns, but now covered in blood from the scourging. Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold the Man!” Pilate may have thought that by inflicting such a severe and painful punishment on Jesus, he might have satisfied the Jews’ lust for blood, and, thus, be able to convince them to spare Jesus’ life. However, when the chief priests and officers of the Jews saw Jesus, they again cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:5-7).
With these words, the Jewish rulers acknowledged to Pilate their true accusation against Jesus: that He was guilty of blasphemy, that “He made Himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was afraid and brought Jesus back inside the Praetorium. Pilate asked Him, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate was indignant, saying, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:8-11).
“We Have No King but Caesar!”
In his interrogations of Jesus, Pilate saw, as others had seen before him, that “no man ever spoke like this Man” (John 7:46). From this point on, Pilate sought even more to release Jesus, but the Jews cried out, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12). The Jewish rulers understood Pilate’s weakness: He was a pawn of Caesar. Pilate’s position as governor in Jerusalem depended on his remaining in Caesar’s favor.
Pilate, having heard their threat, brought Jesus out, sat down in the judgment seat, and said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:13-16). The Jews hated Caesar’s rule over their nation, but they hated Jesus even more. With this statement, they fulfilled Jesus’ prophetic parable, saying, in effect: “We will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). By rejecting God’s Anointed, not only did they deny Jesus as their King, they also denied any allegiance to God as their King as well.
Though Pilate was determined to let Jesus go, the men who were supposed to be Israel’s spiritual leaders persuaded the multitudes to carry out their will. They “denied the Holy One of God and the Just, and asked for a murderer to granted” to them instead, then they insisted that “the Prince of life” be put to death (Acts 3:13-15).
Pilate, bowing to the political pressure, handed Jesus over to the soldiers for execution. The soldiers took the purple robe off Jesus, put His own clothes back on Him, and led Him away to be crucified (Mark. 15:20).
Some seek to put all the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews. It is true that the Jews declared, “His blood be on us and on our children,” however, others were responsible for the shedding of Jesus’ blood as well. We read in Acts 4:27 that “both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together” against God’s holy Servant, Jesus Christ. Pilate and Herod may have acknowledged that Jesus was innocent, but neither of them stepped up to do the right thing and release Him.
While the deeds these people committed against the Lord Jesus were wicked, God used their actions to carry out what His hand and His purpose determined beforehand would be done (Acts 4:28). The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was God’s determined will (Acts 2:23). Through the sacrificial death of His beloved Son, God provided the way for sinful men to have redemption and forgiveness (Eph. 1:7). Therefore, being sinners, we are just as responsible for the death of Christ as anyone is, for “He died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Next Issue: “The Crucifixion of Christ”