135. The trial of Jesus.

[John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16]  Part 1.

In the literature of the world many books have been written on the trail of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and sources outside the Bible. There is no doubt about the historical Jesus and the impact of His life and death on the history of Palestine in the first century. The trial was such a flagrant and brazen distortion of justice that many Jewish scholars are mystified as to how such a hasty, nightly trial by an old and respected institution like the Sanhedrin and its executives, could blot the Jewish judicial procedure in such a lasting way.

In the course of the night Jesus was tried six times: three times by the Jewish religious authority, mainly the high priest and three times by Roman civil authority, Pilate and Herod. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod because of He was known as a Galilean. Herod asked many questions none of which Jesus answered and after Herod mocked and humiliated Jesus, he sent Him back to Pilate who found Him innocent in a dramatic public display with a symbolic washing of hands to proclaim his final verdict over Jesus.

The Jews had no authority to execute a person. They had to convince the Romans to apply the death penalty. In the case of Stephen the first martyr (Acts 7) they took matters into their own hands and stoned him outside the city. Jewish execution was always stoning. (Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 17:7)

In John 12:32 Jesus predicted his death by being lifted up. Crucifixion was a Roman execution, not Jewish. The Jews used Pilate for their own purposes.

They gave in to their own hatred that turned into insane and senseless mob hysteria with no place for mercy or fair judgment.

They lost their sense of respect for their own rituals. To eat the Passover, the participants had to be ceremonially clean. To enter into Pilate’s headquarters they were defiled (the dwelling of a Gentile). The house of a Gentile probably had leaven in a time where they were upholding the ban on the leaven during the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. While they were in the middle of the most important feasting of the year, they were seeking to crucify the Son of God.

What is our religious thinking? Could we be busy with trivial church administration while forgetting love, kindness and forgiveness? What aspects of church demonstrate love and forgiveness as an attractive haven for sinners?

The Jewish leaders twisted their charge against Jesus. To them He was blasphemous (Matthew 26:65). Pilate would not act on a charge like that and would dismiss it as a religious quarrel. They made it political with a hint of rebellion in. They accused Jesus of claiming to be a king.

They denied every principle they had in order to get the death penalty. They suddenly confessed they have no king but the Caesar.  Samuel said to the people God is their king (Samuel 12:12).  At the time when the people nagged him to crown an earthly king for them, Samuel warned them that they would suffer bitterly under earthly kings. History has proved his prophecy true – again and again.

When the Romans first instituted taxes in Palestine, there was almost a bloody revolt. The declared God to be their king and only to Him they would pay tribute. Now they claimed Caesar as king – a shameful about-face. Pilate must have gasped in astonishment.

Pilate: His behaviour is very strange to say the least. He most certainly realized that the trump up charges of the Jews were a series of lies. He was deeply impressed with Jesus. He did not want to condemn Him to death – yet he did.

He tried every possible compromise. He flatly refused to deal with it, he wanted to release a prisoner for them over the Passover, and he scourged Jesus. Still he did not put his foot down to tell the Jews he wants nothing to do with their internal theological struggles.

We know he was ordained by God to follow through with God’s plan, although he was so sadly unaware of his role in history. From a historical point of view let us note a few facts.

In 4BC king Herod the Great died. He was a Jewish king, ruling with Roman consent over all Palestine. He had many faults, but was considered a good king, reigning in relative peace while he completed very ambitious architectural projects. He divided his empire between his three sons also with Roman approval. Two ruled quietly and well – Antipas and Philip. Archelaus, who was only 18 when he became king over Idumaea, Judaea and Samaria, ruled with such extortion and tyranny that the Jews requested the Romans to remove him and appoint a governor.

In the Roman Empire there were territories that required stationed troops and others, when peaceful and untroubled, that were ruled by the senate with a great deal of independence.

Palestine needed troops under the direct control of the Emperor. Bigger provinces like Syria, were ruled by a proconsul, but smaller ones were ruled by a procurator or governor in charge of judicial administration and the military. This leader supervised the taxes but had no authority to increase them. He heard cases and complaints and visited the outposts of the territory once a year. He was paid a salary and was strictly forbidden to accept bribes of gifts. The people could report him to the Emperor.

Pilate took over this role in 26 AD and ruled till 35AD. He was expected to rule with a strong hand to keep the trade routes between Egypt and Syria going.

Pilate did not like the Jews. All Roman soldiers carried a standard with a metal bust of the Caesar who was regarded as a god. Previous governors removed the bust when they entered Jerusalem, but Pilate refused. He was adamant not to give in to the “superstitions” of the Jews.

A group of Jews followed him back to Caesarea to beg him to comply. He refused but agreed to meet them in the amphitheatre. He surrounded them with soldiers and threatened death if they did not stop nagging. The Jews knelt down and bared their necks. Even Pilate could not follow through with his threat against these defenseless men. He conceded. It was a bad start in Palestine.

Jerusalem had water problems. Pilate wanted to build a new aqueduct. He had no money for it, so he raided the Temple treasury, which contained millions. He did not take the money for sacrifices and Temple service. There was a treasury with “unsuitable” money coming from sources, which the priests deemed unholy. It was called Korban. The people rioted and took to the streets. Pilate put his soldiers in plain clothes to mingle with the crowd and at a given signal they attacked. Many Jews were clubbed to death. The incident could put Pilate in a position that he could be reported to the Emperor.

When Pilate visited Jerusalem he stayed at Herod’s palace. He made shields for the palace with the name of Tiberius the Emperor. They were devoted to the honour and memory of the Emperor, but because the Emperor was regarded as a god, the Jews insisted that Pilate takes them down. He refused. They reported him to the Emperor and Tiberius himself ordered him to take the shields down.

All this serve to illustrate that Pilate was concerned about his reputation and knew that the Jews would report him. The Jews blackmailed him with his own reputation in Rome. He was weak and did not have the courage to defy the Jews. He was used for their purposes.

He executed Jesus to save his job.

Do we realize that the events of a normal day will echo in eternity?

May God institute His eternal purposes in our hearts so that we always make decisions, in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that would reflect the heart of our Lord Jesus.



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