Life of Christ 171
It is Wednesday morning. Caiaphas and his bunch have finished their illegal trials. They have convicted Jesus of blasphemy and sentenced Him to death. But they have no actual authority to put a man to death; only the Roman Empire does. Thus it is that Jesus just after sunrise is ushered into presence of Judea's Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
As the Sanhedrin delivers their prisoner to Pilate he asks them what indictment they bring against Him. (John 18.29) Their initial response is laughable. They simply said that He was a bad man as if their word alone was enough to crucify a man. (John 18.30) Pilate, perceiving that the Sanhedrin had no valid political or criminal case against the prisoner, assumed all they had was a religious case. (He was correct about this, of course.) He tells them that religion is their jurisdiction and their problem. (John 18.31)
The Sanhedrin then moves on to Plan B. They inform Pilate that the indictment is indeed political, and that Jesus was guilty of sedition and treason. (Luke 23.2) Pilate has been standing outside of the Praetorium, his judgment hall, discussing this with the Sanhedrin. (They refused to enter on the grounds that entering a Gentile dwelling would make them unclean and thus unfit to observe Passover in just a few hours. Curious, isn't it, how they were so concerned about being ritually clean while committing murder?)
Pilate turns and goes back inside to question the prisoner. Pilate asks Him if He does indeed claim to be the king of the Jews. (John 18.33) Jesus' response is that yes, He does claim to be the king of the Jews, but it is not a worldly kingdom. It is a spiritual kingdom. The proof is the evident fact that His followers are not seeking to break Him out of jail, so to speak. (John 18.36) Accepting this as sensible, and mindful of his first inclination that this was a religious question after all, Pilate returns to the Sanhedrin and formally pronounced Jesus innocent. (John 18.38).
Pilate wants out from under this situation. He is being pressured to sentence a man to capital punishment that he thinks is innocent. But at the same time the last thing he needs is to make the Sanhedrin and thus the Jews mad at him. To Caesar, a governor's job was well done when his province was quiet, peaceful, paying taxes, and producing wealth for the Empire. Pilate, who had as his unhappy lot the province of the troublesome Jews, was already on thin ice with Caesar in this respect.
Despite the Jews well known abhorrence of graven images, respected by his predecessors, Pilate upon initial acceptance of his charge had a cohort of Roman soldiers take possession of the Temple Mount and Fortress Antonia with banners flying. These banners were emblazoned with Caesar's image. The resulting near riot lasted six days, and only ended when the Jewish leaders willingly submitted to threatened death. Pilate had to recant and take down the banners.
Some time later, Pilate, sensing the need for more and better water in Jerusalem, proposed a new aqueduct. So far, so good. But he proposed paying for it with Temple money. Not good. Pilate, anticipating resistance, had plain clothes men mingle with the Jewish group who came to argue with him about it. At a nod from him they fell upon the crowd with clubs, perhaps with more energy than he intended, and many died from the beatings and the resulting crowd stampede.
Additionally, only recently, Pilate had instructed his soldiers to kill a number of rebellious Jews on the grounds of the Temple itself, and the resulting butchery mingled the blood of the Jews with the blood of the sacrifices.
The current Caesar ,Tiberius, was a paranoid, suspicious, sick, and increasingly bloodthirsty man. Think Josef Stalin here. The last thing Pilate needed was for the Sanhedrin to lead the Jews in a fuss which would draw the negative attention of Rome's ailing emperor. The Sanhedrin understand the political calculations going through Pilate's mind all too well. Remorselessly, they press home their attack, demanding that Pilate execute Jesus, asserting that He had spread sedition from Galilee to Judea. (Luke 23.5)
The word 'Galilee' is like a straw tossed to a drowning man. Pilate has jurisdiction only of Judea. If the prisoner is from Galilee this is Herod's problem, not his. Herod is in town for Passover and Pilate promptly ships Jesus to Herod. He hopes thus to get out from underneath the maddening situation. (Luke 23.6-7)
Herod had long wanted to meet Jesus, not out of any spiritual desire, but because he had heard that Jesus was a miracle worker. Jesus completely ignores Herod (Luke 23.6-12) and refuses to dignify his foolishness with any response whatsoever. Herod quickly gets bored with the whole thing, and ships Jesus back to Pilate.
While Jesus had been with Herod Pilate's wife came to him and begged him to let Jesus go. (Matthew 27.19) He already thought Jesus was innocent and this only adds to his desire to get out of what the Sanhedrin wants him to do. Sending Jesus to Herod did not work so he tries something else. Perhaps a little shed blood, via a scourging, will suffice to please them. (Luke 23.13-16) No, that is also unacceptable. Undeterred, Pilate tries something else. It was his custom to pardon one Jew every Passover. He decides to frame the opportunity this time as a choice between a clearly innocent man and a clearly guilty one. (Mark 15.7-9) After all, who wants a murderer released back into the general population? The Sanhedrin, though, quickly quashes the idea and whips the people to an emotional fervor demanding, of all things, that Barabbas be released. (Mark 15.11)
Pilate, still resisting but running out of ideas, begins to transition from trying to get out sentencing Jesus to death to finding a way to make himself look good while doing it. To that end, he gets the people to verbalize their blood-thirsty intent thus supposedly getting him off the hook. (Mark 15.12-14) They oblige him by issuing a full throated demand for Jesus' death.
In this whole scene we see two contrasting desires - Pilate to let Jesus go and the Sanhedrin to kill Him. Pilate pushes back saying it is a religious question. The Sanhedrin pushes back saying it is a political question. Pilate pushes back with a legal declaration of innocence. The Sanhedrin pushes back saying Jesus is fomenting rebellion in Galilee. Pilate pushes back by sending Jesus to Herod. Herod pushes back by sending Jesus back to Pilate. Pilate pushes back by offering instead to scourge Jesus. The Sanhedrin refuses and insists on capital punishment. Pilate pushes back by framing the traditional release to be between Jesus and Barabbas. The Sanhedrin pushes back by asking for Barabbas. Pilate pushes back by asking them to specifically verbalize their intent for the record. The Sanhedrin pushes back by whipping the crowd into a fever and demanding crucifixion.
Like a skilled boxer, the Sanhedrin has Pilate up against the ropes. Now they deliver the knockout blow. If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. (John 19.12) Pilate is deathly afraid of the autocratic paranoid Tiberius. Pilate knows full well he governs an unruly people. He has repeatedly antagonized those unruly people. He does not need brought to the negative attention of Tiberius and the Jews are promising him that he will be if he does not issue the ruling they demand. Like a deflated balloon, he collapses to the mat. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. (Luke 23.24)
Pitifully attempting to robe himself in the tattered remains of his conscience and his dignity he calls for a bowl of water. He proceeds to symbolically wash his hands clean from the blood of a prisoner he knows is completely innocent. The demonically inspired blood lust of the crowd throws this back in his face with spine chilling cry, His blood be on us, and on our children. (Matthew 27.25)
With this cry Judaism was, in the person of its representatives, guilty of denial of God, of blasphemy, of apostasy. It committed suicide; and, ever since, has its dead body been carried in show from land to land, and from century to century: to be dead, and to remain dead, till He come a second time, Who is the Resurrection and the Life!
No greater travesty of justice ever occurred. No greater consequences ever grew for those involved in an injustice. And no greater blessing ever flowed from such an injustice.