136. The trial of Jesus – Pilate and Herod

[John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16 – Part 2]

Pilate has always been a tragic figure in the events around the death of Jesus. I should probably not feel sorry for him, as he was cruel and hardened, with little regard for life. Even so, he was a product of the powerful, arrogant pagan empire he was born into and chose to serve. His questions to Jesus suggested a whispered longing for something more and an impatient realization that this man Jesus was more than the Jews and the mob made Him out to be.

Pilate wanted to defer responsibility. No one can do that with Jesus. You have to deal with Jesus by yourself. Every person makes a decision about Jesus. It is not possible to ignore Him. His very existence demands a choice to accept or reject.

Pilate tried to escape the situation and release a prisoner to defer a verdict on Jesus. He could not do that. He was not successful.

Pilate tried compromise. He ordered the scourging to avoid the verdict. No one can ever compromise the unavoidable.

Pilate tried an appeal to the mercy of the people. No one can serve Jesus and do the right thing and please the people at the same time.

He capitulated and abandoned Jesus to the mob. He had no courage to deliver a just verdict.

Pilate looked down on the Jews. It is difficult to govern with so much arrogance and pride. He did not want to get involved. He asked Jesus about His claim to be king. Jesus asked his source for this rumour. He wanted to engage Pilate and get to his heart. Pilate did not allow that.

Pilate was curious in a superstitious way. He was afraid to come to a decision. He suspected that God may be involved and his ignorance brought fear. Which god? Where did this man fit into the supernatural world, which he probably reluctantly believed in?

There was one thing though. He desired truth. He recognized the absence of significance in his life. He was aware of his own limitations in knowing what to do. He was probably very conscious of his own lack of wisdom and searched for truth. Pilate felt he was a successful Roman soldier. He was at the top of his ranks and he knew there was something missing. Just for a moment he might have thought that this tortured Galilean was his answer to the longing in his soul.What a pity he did not wait for the answer.

The role of  JESUS in this drama is calm and in full control in spite of immense physical pain and a body in shock.

He is the majestic conductor of His own trial. Pilate recognized that Jesus is actually in control. He is not a pathetic victim of cruelty. Pilate treated Him with respect. He knew Jesus was different and special.

Jesus speaks directly about His kingdom. He does not try to explain. He states the truth. He knows He is about to die and gets the message out straight and undiluted. At Passover the atmosphere tended to get explosive. There was always extra Roman troops in Jerusalem over Passover. Pilate had about 3 000 men under his command. If Jesus wanted to fight, it would have been a bloodbath.

He makes it clear that His kingdom is in the hearts of men, not of this earth and that the conquest would be love.

He came to earth as a witness to the truth – about God, himself and man. Christ is the truth. All else is half measure and groping for parts of it.

Jesus was physically strong. Scourging was horrific  – details are too sickening to account. One commentary explains it this way:

When a man was scourged he was tied to a whipping-post in such a way that his back was fully exposed. The lash was a long leather thong, studded at intervals with pellets of lead and sharpened pieces of bone. It literally tore a man’s back into strips. Few remained conscious throughout the ordeal; some died and many went raving mad. Jesus endured.

Pilate wanted to appeal to the humane and sympathetic side of the people and showed them Jesus in a state of shock, bleeding and exhausted. He still wanted to get out of the decision to execute.

Pilate says: See the man. The word Pilate uses is ho, the normal Greek word for human being, but the Greek thinkers often used it for the ideal man, the heavenly man. Pilate is surprised that the torture has not finished Jesus off.

Pilate says he has the power to release Him or execute Him. Jesus is clear that Pilate has no power at all except what is given to execute God’s plan. Jesus is triumphant all the way to the cross.

Jesus is silent before the High Priest (Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61). He is silent before Herod (Luke 23:9). He is silent when the Jews laid the charges (Matthew 27:14; Mark 15:5). He speaks to Pilate, however, and answers all his questions. It seems that all the arrogance and authority that the power of Rome gave Pilate, disappeared in the presence of Jesus. Pilate verbalizes the cry of his heart for truth. His uncertainty is eating away his soul and career.

There was no common ground for the argument to go forward. It is truly a dark day when the Prince of Heaven falls silent. He is known for the God who speaks (Isaiah 52:6)

When a man’s mind is so locked up in his own goals, pride and blindness of understanding – God is silent.

Pilate brought Jesus out onto of the Pavement of Lithostrotos(Gabbatha in Aramaic) – a marbled mosaic where the judgment seat stood, in front the governor’s praetorium and sat upon the bemaon which the magistrate sat to make his decisions.

Some commentators says that the use of the word for sit might suggest that Pilate in mockery made Jesus sit upon the judgment seat and ask the people: Should I crucify you king? He mocked Jesus to judge the people. What dramatic irony in this scene!


The soldiers were carrying out orders, probably with some speculation and mockery amongst themselves. In most cases the soldiers in command of a crucifixion was half drunk, just to stomach the cruelty of what they needed to do.

They played a game of treating a helpless prisoner like a king with a robe and a crown that causes pain.

How could they know that they crowned and mocked a true king – the king of their lives?


John talks briefly about him. It is only the Gospels who tell of the custom to free a prisoner at Passover. It could have been a custom to free one of the many political prisoners accused of insurrection. Barabbas was infamous, a well-known murderer and insurrectionist – truly somebody to fear. (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-25; Acts 3:14)

His name means: Bar Abba – son of the father or Bar Rabban – son of the rabbi. He could have been the black sheep of a religious family. He was more than a common criminal. He made murder, robbery and other crimes his lifestyle. He was a man of violence.

The choice of the people stayed with them forever. They chose the man of bloody force and violence and rejected the man of love and gentleness.

 Throughout the centuries this choice was made again and again.

No one knows what happened to Barabbas. Certainly he was one of the sinners for whom Jesus died. I have no doubt that the love of God who chose him to go free would pursue him until he investigated the surprising turn of events so that he could testify of the Man who so dramatically took his place on that cruel cross which afforded him freedom, salvation and a second chance in life.

In the Gospel of Luke (23.2), after the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish elders ask Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn Jesus accusing Jesus of making false claims of being a king. While questioning Jesus about the claim of being the King of the Jews Pilate realizes that Jesus is a Galilean and therefore under Herod’s jurisdiction.

The Herod that tried Jesus happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. He ruled over Galilee. Pilate decides to send Jesus to Herod to be tried. Herod Antipas, the same man who had previously ordered the death of John the Baptist, had wanted to see Jesus for a long time, hoping to observe one of the miracles of Jesus.

Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis, in favour of Hernias, who had formerly been married to his half-brother Herod 2.  According to the New Testament Gospels, it was John the Baptist’s condemnation of this arrangement that led Antipas to have him arrested. John was subsequently put to death. Besides provoking his conflict with the Baptiser, the tetrarch’s (ruler over a quarter) divorce added a personal grievance to previous disputes with Aretas (father of the daughter Antipas divorced) over territory on the border of Perea and Nabatea. The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas. A Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius, but abandoned upon that emperor’s death in 37 AD. In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa 1 of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.

Jesus is quiet in the presence of Herod, recognizing his shallow arrogance and many hidden weaknesses. He is a character of compromise and will do anything to ensure his comfort and wealth.

Herod does not relieve Pilate of any decision on Jesus. He sends him back to Pilate. Pilate has the power to execute and Herod probably came to the conclusion that Jesus’ death would make no difference to him and his precious lifestyle under Roman rule.

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