In the Fulness of Time/Part 151

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2012
In order to obtain the complete presentation of the Roman trial of Jesus, both Luke’s and John’s Gospels must be included. This approach will also make it possible to observe all the attempts of Pilate to release Jesus. Pilate seems to be a weak unprincipled man, at least in this case.

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The Trial of Jesus Before Pilate. Matthew 27:11-32

In order to obtain the complete presentation of the Roman trial of Jesus, both Luke’s and John’s Gospels must be included. This approach will also make it possible to observe all the attempts of Pilate to release Jesus. Pilate seems to be a weak unprincipled man, at least in this case.

Accusation: and Pilate’s Question. Matthew 27: 11-14

Mt. 27:11-14 “And Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him never a word, inasmuch as the governor marveled greatly.”

The trial began when Jesus was accused of three things; perverting the nation, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar and making Himself a king (Luke 23:1-4). Pilate was not impressed with those accusations, for he said, “I find no fault in this man” (23:4). He then made an effort to have the Jews judge Jesus according to their law, but they refused, saying: “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death” (John 18:31). Under Roman law this was true; only the Roman officials could condemn a person to death. Thus, even though the Jews practiced death by stoning as a penalty for blasphemy, this would not be permitted by Roman law.

Their concern was not some supposed claim to deity; they would be more upset over the tribute question, or the claim to be King of the Jews, if this meant insurrection against Caesar. Yet, when Pilate asked Jesus, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, Su Legeis, “It is as you say” (verse 11), and while Pilate “marveled greatly,” (verse 12) that Jesus did not answer the many things that were spoken against Him, Pilate did not assume that to be worthy of the death penalty. John recorded more of the conversation between Pilate and Jesus concerning the “kingdom” of Jesus. One of the most important aspects of Jesus’ reply is in John 18:36. There are those who would take the first part of that verse as proof that Jesus denied His earthly kingdom when He said: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” But Jesus added: “but now is my kingdom not from here,” inferring that the Jews had rejected Him as their king, and that He would have His kingdom on this earth later.

Then Pilate went out to the Jews again and said, “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38). Ordinarily, this would have been an order for Jesus’ release, but the Jews continued their accusations, this time mentioning Galilee (Luke 23:5). When he heard that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Jesus to appear before Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee (who was also in Jerusalem at that same time), hoping to pass the buck, so to speak, and allow Herod to take the responsibility for condemning Jesus to death. But it did not work out that way, because all Herod was interested in was to see Jesus work some miracle; instead, Jesus refused to answer Herod’s “many words” (Luke 23:6-9). The Jews persisted in their accusations before Herod “vehemently,” but all Herod permitted the soldiers to do was that they: “treated him with contempt, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him back to Pilate” (Luke 23:10-11).

Decision: Jesus or Barabbas? Mt. 27:15-18

Mt. 27:15-18 “Now at that feast the governor was accustomed to releasing unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore, when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.”

At this point Pilate announced that both he and Herod Antipas had examined Jesus, especially with regard to their charge against Jesus: “as one that perverteth the people” (Luke 23:14), but they could find: “no fault in this man touching those things” of which the Jews were accusing Jesus. Pilate suggested: “I will chastise him, and release him” (23:16). This was his fourth attempt to allow Jesus to go free. This was in connection with the Feast of Passover. Just how long this custom had been in effect, nobody really knows. Some have even connected it with a more ancient heathen Egyptian practice, but this is mere speculation. Pilate plainly said: “Ye have a custom,” (John 18:39) so that it most apparently originated with the Jews. Matthew’s description of Barabbas is simply: “a notable prisoner” but Mark 15:7calls him one: “who had committed murder in the insurrection.” He is also called a robber, but that particular crime was not sufficient for a death sentence, as were insurrection and murder. Pilate knew that the chief priests and rulers had delivered Christ over to him “for envy,” that is, because they were envious of His attracting so many followers. Perhaps, then, Pilate was forcing their hand by offering to release Jesus since the alternative was for the Jews to condemn an innocent man to death, even the one who was called the Christ, and the King of the Jews!

Warning: and Washing of Pilate’s Hands. Mt. 27:19-26

Mt. 27:19-26 “When he was seated on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Which of the two will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying¸ Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but rather that a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. See ye to it. Then answered all the people and said, His blood be on us and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”

When Pilate was in the process of negotiating with the chief priests, elders and the people, a rather strange interruption occurred. He was actually seated on the “judgment seat” (bema, a raised platform). This same word bema, was used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:10 to refer to the “judgment seat of Christ” where believer’s works will be judged for the purpose of reward. The judgment seat upon which Pilate sat was where he would determine whether Jesus or Barabbas should be released. The interruption to the proceedings came from Pilate’s wife, who wanted her husband to have: “nothing to do with that righteous man,” because of a dream she had that very same day. Unfortunately there are no details of that dream, so, as might be expected, much speculation has arisen concerning what it contained.

However, only facts can be dealt with, and they are very few. She had “suffered many things” because of Jesus. That she called Him “that righteous man” and warned Pilate to have nothing to do with Jesus, shows that she did not want Pilate to condemn Him to death. What is not mentioned is just as important; there is no indication that God gave her the dream, or that an angel spoke to her (as was true with Joseph in Matthew 1:20; 2:19). Having noted this, it can be said that Pilate’s reaction to this warning from his wife was to make another attempt to release Jesus by repeating his question of verse 17 in verse 21: “Which of the two will ye that I release unto you?” When they repeated their demand for the release of Barabbas, Pilate persisted in asking: “Why, what evil hath he done?” But by this time the chief priests and elders had “persuaded the multitude” (verse 20), which made Pilate fear a riot. Such an uproar would surely jeopardize his job as well as his life; so he “took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. See ye to it.”

This action of Pilate was really a Jewish practice, going all the way back to Deuteronomy 21:1-9. In 21:1-6, the Law of Moses provided for the occasion of a man found slain in a field. The elders and judges of the nearest town would have the priests offer a heifer and would then wash their hands over the heifer and say: Our hands have not shed this blood… lay not innocent blood unto thy people Israel’s charge…. So shalt thou put the guilt of innocent blood from among you” (21:7-9).

Responsibility for the blood of Jesus was assumed by “all the people” (verse 25), but this statement must be taken in proper context lest it be thought to include all Jews for all generations to come. In reality, it was the mob action of those “stirred up” by the chief priests (Mark 15:11). Certainly there were many thousands at the Passover who were not involved, who had no desire for the crucifixion of Christ, and many more thousands throughout the land of Israel who were not at the Passover, who had seen His loving character manifested in His ministry and miracles, who would not have consented to the crucifixion of Jesus. But the officials of the Jews persuaded the mob. This rejection by official Israel brought the judgment of AD 70 upon their Temple and city as Christ prophesied in Matthew 24:2.

In Acts 3:12-19 the Apostle Peter made several observations about their guilt. First, he made it clear that the people had: “delivered up and denied (Jesus) in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.” Peter further blamed the people because they: “denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life.” But then in verse 17 Peter added: “I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did your rulers” and offered them the chance to: “Repent and be converted” with the result that five thousand believed (Acts 4:4). The rest is history; the nation as a whole refused to believe, so the unwitting prophecy of the Pharisees in John 11:48 was fulfilled, but for the exact opposite reason from that which they feared: “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him, and the Romans shall come and take away our place and nation.”

Sad to say, they did not let Him alone; instead, Pilate released Barabbas to them, scourged Jesus, and delivered Him to be crucified. Such scourging was often so severe that it resulted in immediate death of the victim. In the case of Christ’s scourging, it certainly contributed to His weakness and early death.

Mocking and Mistreatment of Jesus. Mt. 27:27-32

Mt. 27:27-32 “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it on his head, and a reed on his right hand, and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spat upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him, And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.”

Though the Gospels present certain aspects of the physical sufferings endured by Christ, they are discreetly limited. Several accounts have been written by medical doctors concerning the specific details of the scourging, mistreatment and crucifixion of our Lord. One article is: “An Anatomist Looks at the Physical Sufferings of our Lord,” by Dr. Howard A. Matzke in The Lutheran Witness, February 21, 1961, pages 78-79. Another more detailed article entitled: “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” by Dr. William D. Edwards, et al, is in the Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1980, pages 1455-1463.

As can be noted from John 19:1-16, the scourging and the mistreatment of Jesus were directed by Pilate as an attempt to present Jesus to the Jews in a weak and bloody state to elicit sympathy and possible release for Him. After the scourging, which lacerated His back, Jesus was led out into the courtyard (the Praetorium), stripped, and clothed with a chlamuda (a scarlet robe which probably belonged to one of the Roman military men), Assuming it was somewhat discolored from wear, this may be why Mark and John depicted it as purple. Of course, this was done in mockery, presenting Jesus as “king.” The crown of thorns added to the charade, but at the same time, piercing the head of Jesus, causing more blood to flow down His face. The reed which they put in His hand was a kalamos, also called a “staff,” and was solid enough for them to take and administer blows to His head (verse 30) which made the thorns go deeper and become all the more painful.

Along with the physical agony came the shameful humiliation of the bowing, mocking and spitting in His face. Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews, and said: “Behold, the man! When the chief priests, therefore, and officers saw him” (even in this pitiable condition) they were relentless in crying out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (John 19:5-6).

Remarkably, Christ was still able to carry on two conversations. In John 19:9-15 He responded to Pilate, who said: “Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above; therefore, he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.”

The second conversation occurred as the procession was on its way to the hill of crucifixion. As a company of women “bewailed and lamented him” (Luke 23:27), Jesus said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” 23:28). He then repeated in essence what He had predicted in Matthew 24:1-3; Luke 21:20-24 concerning the awful destruction of the Temple and devastation of Jerusalem.

Because of the extreme weakness of Jesus, He was unable to carry His cross very far (Luke 23:26). The elders “compelled” Simon the Cyrenian to bear the cross. This was known as impressments, and is alluded to in Matthew 5:41. There is some question as to whether Jesus was carrying just the crossbar, called the patibulum, or the upright piece as well (called the stipes). If both pieces were carried, the cross would have weighed over 300 pounds, whereas the patibulum by itself weighed 75 pounds. A strong, healthy man would not be able to manage 300 pounds; and in His weakened condition, for Jesus, even 75 pounds would be next to impossible. Little wonder, then, that Simon was “compelled to bear his cross” (Matthew 27:32); and, is it any less of a wonder, that, in the fulness of time” Jesus would expect of His followers: “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41)?

Read Part 152

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