The Trials of Christ
Matthew 26:57 – 27:26
Matthew 26:57 – 27:26
The Trials of Jesus before Men. Historically, there were a number of trials or “hearings” of our Lord before various councils and governors. There were actually six different hearings, three before the Jews, and three before the Gentiles. One remarkable feature of the trials of our Lord is that the Jews and Gentiles unite together to put Jesus to death. In Psa. 22, Jesus could say “dogs have compassed me” meaning the Gentiles, but also “strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round” meaning the Jewish leaders. It is striking that Rome is implicated in the death of Christ; the last beast of Daniel 7. It was a Roman trial and execution that Jesus received at His first coming, but the very first enemy He will deal with at the appearing is the Revived Roman Empire! Nonetheless, the Jews that delivered Him to the Romans had “the greater sin” (John 19:11). As we trace through these various trials, we wonder ‘How could this happen?’ This was no mere tragic accident. There were dark forces at work; it was “man’s hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 23:52). Of the six, only trials 2, 3, 4, and 6 are given in Matthew. The trial in Matthew is quite short, compared to Luke and John.
- Before Annas. After Jesus was arrested, the very first hearing was before Annas (John 18:13), the older of the two high priests that year, and the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Perhaps Annas was from another powerful family or party, and had influence over the rulers of the Jews, and therefore the chief priests needed his sanction before they proceeded. Annas then sent Jesus bound unto Caiaphas (John 18:24).
- Before Caiaphas. Jesus was then led to the hall of Caiaphas (Matt. 26:57) where He was held all night, questioned, and abused. The whole Sanhedrin was there (religious council). They sought false witnesses against Him, but were unsuccessful. Finally, they found two false witnesses who misquoted the Lord, claiming He had promised to vandalize the temple (destroy it in three days), then rebuild it. He had said nothing of the kind, although His words in John 2:19 and Matt 24:2 were misconstrued. Then Caiaphas asked Him outright if He were the Messiah, the Son of God, to which Jesus answered in the affirmative. They agreed that this was considered blasphemy, which in their eyes made Jesus guilty of death. However, the council could make no official ruling at night time, according to the Jewish traditional law.1 Actually, the night-time trial was actually illegal too. To satisfy the legal requirement, the council retired until morning.
- Before the Sanhedrin. The full Sanhedrin was convened again at daybreak (Matt. 27:1), and they formally agreed to put Jesus to death. However, the Jews did not have sufficient authority to carry out capital punishment, because they were under Roman authority (John 18:31). For this reason, they needed to take Jesus to the civil authorities. Of course, this was all part of the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, that the Jews would put Jesus to death through the instrumentality of Gentiles; “Him… ye [Jews] have taken, and by wicked hands [Gentiles] have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). The Jews would normally have stoned their criminals, but Jesus must be crucified in fulfillment of Psa. 22:16, “they pierced my hands and my feet”. That meant Jesus would receive a Roman trial and, if He was convicted, a Roman execution.
- Before Pilate. The next hearing was before Pilate, in his praetorium (John 18:28; Luke 23:1-5). The Jews would not go into the hall itself lest they be defiled on the preparation day for Passover. Pilate therefore took Jesus into the praetorium and repeatedly went back and forth to the outer court to dialog with the Jews. Think of the hypocrisy! Once Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, which was Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod.
- Before Herod. Herod heard the case and found no fault, and returned the prisoner to Pilate (Luke 23:6-12). However, before sending Jesus back to Pilate, Herod humiliated the Lord before his soldiers, first stripping Him naked (“set at nought”) and mocking Him, then clothing Him with a splendid robe.
- Before Pilate Again. The sixth and final hearing was before Pilate again in his praetorium (Luke 23:13-25). Pilate tried a number of things to dissuade the murderous Jews. Three times Pilate declared Jesus’ guiltlessness. He offered to release one prisoner: harmless Jesus or insurrectionist Barabbas, hoping to put some sense into them. He presented Him to them as a king (“Behold your king!”) to appeal to nationalistic sentiments. Finally, Pilate washed his hands to appeal to their consciences. All these efforts being fruitless, Pilate consented to the Lord’s death in order to please the Jews.
In all of these trials, there was nothing found in our Lord that warranted His death.
- The Hall of Caiaphas: Trial Before the Sanhedrin (26:57-68)
- Peter’s Three Denials of Jesus (26:69-75)
- The Sanhedrin Convened, Jesus Led to Pilate (27:1-2)
- Judas’ Remorse, Suicide, and the Field of Blood (27:3-10)
- The Trial Before Pilate (27:11-26)
The Hall of Caiaphas: Trial Before the Sanhedrin (26:57-68)
False Witnesses (26:57-61)
¶ 57 Now they that had seized Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. v.57 The Lord was led to the hall of the High Priest, who was a cruel and wicked man. In John 11 we read of his unscrupulous and awful advice; that it was better to kill one man in order to preserve the nation from the iron teeth of Rome. Ironically, killing Jesus would not prevent the Romans from coming, but on the contrary, it was the very thing that sealed the Jews’ fate in the government of God (Matt. 22:7). The council was already assembled when the arrest-party arrived. Note that there were two high priests that year (John 18:13), Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas. It was unscriptural to have two high priests, but at this time the office of high priest was being used like a political toy in Judea, often passed back and forth between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and jostled for by powerful families. It could be that there was a marriage alliance between two powerful families at this time, resulting in the double high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.
58 And Peter followed him at a distance, even to the palace of the high priest, and entering in sat with the officers to see the end. v.58 Peter evidently was intent on making good on his boast, in spite of the fact that he had forsaken the Lord and fled. But he follows a long way off, unable to get up the courage to draw near. What was he doing here? It says, “to see the end”. Was this some form of curiosity? I believe it was human affection for Jesus. Peter wanted to know what would happen to Jesus. But he was there in his own strength. John 18 reveals that Peter was warming himself beside a fire built by the men. He was trying to blend in with the enemies of Christ. What an awful place to be! Lot sat in the enemy’s gate, Samson slept in the enemy’s lap, and Peter warmed himself by the enemy’s fire. Fleshly determination will always result in more damage, not less.
59 And the chief priests and the elders and the whole sanhedrim sought false witness against Jesus, so that they might put him to death. 60 And they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. But at the last two false witnesses came forward 61 and said, “He” said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and in three days build it. vv.59-61 The Sanhedrin was really running a pre-trial hearing. They could make no official ruling at night-time, according to the Jewish traditional law , but they needed to get their arguments and witnesses in order ahead of time. Since the Lord was perfect, there was no evidence to bring against Him. The truth does not really matter to political cases like this. They turn instead to manufacture false witnesses. However, they could not get any two false witnesses to agree together (Mark 14:56), and they needed at least two to get a death penalty conviction (Deut. 17:6). Finally, they found two false witnesses who misquoted the Lord, claiming He had promised to vandalize the temple (destroy it in three days), then rebuild it. He had said nothing of the kind, although His words in John 2:19 and Matt 24:2 were misconstrued. The real motivation for their putting the Lord to death was envy, as Pilate shrewdly discerned (Matt. 27:18). But they sought religious justification to disguise their true motives.
The Lord’s Silence, Confession, and Conviction for Blasphemy (26:62-66)
62 And the high priest standing up said to him, Answerest thou nothing? What do these witness against thee? 63 But Jesus was silent. And the high priest answering said to him, I adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us if “thou” art the Christ the Son of God. 64 Jesus says to him, “Thou” hast said. Moreover, I say to you, From henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. vv.62-64 When the false accusations were made against His record, Jesus did not answer. That shows His perfect lowliness. He who was perfectly righteous would never speak in His own defense! But when the High Priest adjured Him, then the Lord spoke. That was according to scripture, “And if any one sin, and hear the voice of adjuration, and he is a witness whether he hath seen or known it, if he do not give information, then he shall bear his iniquity” (Lev. 5:1). When asked if He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus answered in the affirmative. This destroys every claim made by Muslims that Jesus never claimed to be divine. Our Lord was rejected both as Messiah and as Son of God. Therefore He takes the title “Son of man” both as rejected by all mankind, and in future glory. Man would no longer see the lowly, suffering man on earth, but would see Him in two ways; (1) in His present position in heaven, “sitting at the right hand of power”, and (2) in His future appearing, “coming on the clouds of heaven”.
65 Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He has blasphemed: what need have we any more of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard the blasphemy. 66 What think ye? And they answering said, He is liable to the penalty of death. vv.65-66 God saw fit that their attempts to convict the Lord by false witness were unsuccessful, and ultimately He was convicted because of His own words… it was a plain rejection of the truth of the Person of Christ. If the Lord had been a mere man, His confession would have been blasphemy, and the Jews would have been right to stone Him. But Jesus had demonstrated through the scriptures, through signs, and by Divine announcement that He was the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore, the conclusion of the Sanhedrin amounts to the worst injustice ever committed by man… they gave the death penalty to the Son of God come in flesh!
His Generation. There were many things wrong with Jesus’ trial, but one thing denied Him was “his generation”. The prophet Isaiah remarks on the sadness of it in ch.53, saying; “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living…” (Isa. 53:8). The trials of our Lord were corrupt and rushed. In Jewish custom, when anyone from the royal line of David was on trial for their life, it was required that their lineage be taken into consideration. After all, the criminal might be in the royal line, or even the ancestor of their Messiah. Therefore, it was expected that the accused’s “generation” or genealogy would be “declared” to the court, to weigh into the decision. No one was there to advocate for Jesus. His generation was not declared. Instead, He was unceremoniously “cut off out of the land of the living”.
Abuse by the Jews (26:67-68)
67 Then they spit in his face, and buffeted him, and some struck him with the palms of their hand, 68 saying, Prophesy to us, Christ, Who is it who struck thee? vv.67-68 Man is not content with political outcomes. He must sink to the level of inhuman brutality. There is hardly a more humiliating experience than having one’s face spat upon. It is interesting that both the servants of the high priest and the Roman soldiers resorted to spitting (Matt. 27:30). There was a time when His spittle was used to heal the eyes of a blind man (John 9:6). They also “buffeted Him”, which means ‘to strike with a fist’. Some struck Him with an open hand. A closed fist causes internal damage to the body, while the open hand causes a sharper pain. In Luke 22:64 we find that they first blindfolded Him, then slapped His face. They were playing a game with Him, mocking the Lord’s confession. There are three Messianic offices that pertain to Christ; He is prophet, priest, and king. The Lord is mocked in each of these capacities by His enemies in Matt. 26-27.
- Matt. 26:67-68, He is mocked as Prophet
- Matt. 27:27-31, He is mocked as King
- Matt. 27:42, He is mocked as Priest (“save thyself”)
It is amazing to think that Jesus knew every one of them. His prophetic accuracy is demonstrated in the very next verses, when Peter, who was trying with all his might, failed so miserably, and fulfilled the Lord’s prophecy that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny the Lord three times.
Peter’s Three Denials of Jesus (26:69-75)
¶ 69 But Peter sat without in the palace-court; and a maid came to him, saying, And “thou” wast with Jesus the Galilaean. 70 But he denied before all, saying, I do not know what thou sayest. 71 And when he had gone out into the entrance, another maid saw him, and says to those there, This man also was with Jesus the Nazaraean. 72 And again he denied with an oath: I do not know the man. 73 And after a little, those who stood there, coming to him, said to Peter, Truly “thou” too art of them, for also thy speech makes thee manifest. 74a Then he began to curse and to swear, I know not the man. vv.69-74a Peter’s self-confidence had carried him to the palace court, but now he was in a place where his own strength could not sustain him. He was previously unwilling to heed the Lord’s warnings, and so he must learn the hard way. So with us, if we are unwilling to believe God’s Word, we may have to learn by hard experience. A maid came to Peter and recognized him as having walked with Jesus. Peter denied this, not only before the maid, but “before all”. Then another maid accused Peter of being with Jesus. Notice that the accusations get more and more pointed. Every time Peter squirmed to avoid association with Jesus, the enemies got a little closer to the truth! First, “Jesus the Galilean”, then “Jesus the Nazaraean”, finally “thy speech makes thee manifest”. His first denial is ambiguous, “I do not know what thou sayest”, but his second denial is specific, “I do not know the man”. He also gets more forceful; first he denied, then he denied with an oath, then he denied with cursing and swearing. The final denial was prompted by those who were standing by, who pointed out to Peter that his own accent proved he was a Galilaean. Peter’s denial was vehement. Are we capable of denying the Lord? Yes. If there is an opportunity to identify ourselves with Christ, and we hide from making our Christianity known, we are essentially denying the Lord.
74b And immediately the cock crew. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, who had said to him, Before the cock crow thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went forth without, and wept bitterly. vv.74b-75 God ordered the circumstances so there was no question in Peter’s mind; “and immediately the cock crew”. The Lord’s prophecy was accurate! (This follows immediately on the Jews’ mocking Him as a prophet.) Peter remembered the Lord’s words, and suddenly was filled with deep sorrow, marked by bitter weeping. These tears mark the beginning of the work of repentance in Peter’s heart. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The work of restoration was continued by the Lord in resurrection, who “appeared unto Peter” in a private meeting (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5a). Finally, the Lord restored Peter to a place of public service before the other apostles in John 21:15-23. The Lord can still use His servants after they have failed. Peter was so thoroughly restored that he was used by God to preach to the nation of Israel after the Day of Pentecost; “ye denied the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14).
Keep us, Lord, oh, keep us cleaving
To Thyself and still believing,
Till the hour of Thy receiving
Promised joys with Thee.2
The Sanhedrin Convened, Jesus Led to Pilate (27:1-2)
¶ And when it was morning all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus so that they might put him to death. 2 And having bound him they led him away, and delivered him up to Pontius Pilate, the governor. vv.1-2 The full Sanhedrin was convened again at daybreak (Matt. 27:1), and while they had decided the night before, now they formally agreed to put Jesus to death. The Jews did not have sufficient authority to carry out capital punishment, because they were under Roman authority (John 18:31). They had lost ius gladii (literally, “the right of the sword”, or the legal right to exercise capital punishment) in A.D. 6, when Palestine became a Roman province. For this reason, they needed to take Jesus to the civil authorities; enter Pontius Pilate. Of course, this was all part of the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, that the Jews would put Jesus to death through the instrumentality of Gentiles; “Him… ye [Jews] have taken, and by wicked hands [Gentiles] have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). The Jews would normally have stoned their criminals, but Jesus must be crucified in fulfillment of Psa. 22:16, “they pierced my hands and my feet”. That meant Jesus would receive a Roman trial and, if He was convicted, a Roman execution. Whatever the complicity of the Gentiles in the crucifixion might be, the Spirit of God reveals that the Jews were behind it fully.
Judas’ Remorse, Suicide, and the Field of Blood (27:3-10)
¶ 3 Then Judas, who delivered him up, seeing that he had been condemned, filled with remorse, returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, I have sinned in having delivered up guiltless blood. But they said, What is that to us? see “thou” to that. 5 And having cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, he left the place, and went away and hanged himself. vv.3-5 When Judas realized what he had done, that Jesus had not escaped but was rather condemned to death, he was “filled with remorse”. Remorse is not the same thing as repentance. It was only “the sorrow of the world, which worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Remorse is to regret one’s actions, repentance is to pass judgment with God upon our actions. True repentance is “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). The irony of the situation is solemn. Judas would like to return the blood money, to turn back the hands of time if he could. He turns to man rather than God. Alas, the heartless chief priests and leaders would not take the money. In vain Judas scrambled for something to appease his tortured conscience. In this way, Satan always cheats his victims. When the devil has used you to accomplish his purpose, he will then discard you like a piece of trash. Did these false-shepherds of Israel care for poor Judas’ soul? No. “But they said, What is that to us? see thou to that”. In utter horror, Judas cast the pieces of silver down, unable to process the guilt. The money he had coveted so earnestly, and went to such lengths to get, is now worthless to him. He cast the money into the temple proper, which was “the holy place”. How could he do this, if only the priests were allowed in there? Three of the best manuscripts say Judas threw the pieces into the temple. But in any case, he fulfilled the words of the prophet; “I cast them… in the house of the Lord” (Zechariah 11:13). He went out and committed suicide by hanging. In Acts 1 we learn that Judas couldn’t even do that properly; “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15).
6 And the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, It is not lawful to cast them into the Corban, since it is the price of blood. 7 And having taken counsel, they bought with them the field of the potter for a burying-ground for strangers. 8 Wherefore that field has been called Blood-field unto this day. 9 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremias the prophet, saying, “And I took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was set a price on, whom they who were of the sons of Israel had set a price on, 10 and they gave them for the field of the potter, according as the Lord commanded me.” [Zech. 11:12-13] vv.6-10 The sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Jews comes forth. They would follow the letter of the law scrupulously in the issue of the offering (the gift, or “corban”), but would commit the murder of their own Messiah without a twinge of conscience. This is similar to how Saul of Tarsus insisted on witnesses at the stoning of Stephen. Instead of taking the blood money into the treasury, they used it to buy “the potter’s field”, for a place to bury strangers. It is evident that, after Judas’ suicide (Acts 1:18-19), the priests buried him there, and in that ironic way; “this man then indeed got a field with the reward of iniquity”. But the field that was purchased with blood-money became a perpetual witness of the sin of the Jews, witnessed by the fact that all the locals knew it, and therefore; “that field has been called Blood-field unto this day”. It pictures the state of the Jews as cast out of their land through the government of God; they are strangers in this world, without a home, unto this day. Some may be in Palestine today in unbelief, but they will never truly rest until God gives Israel a new heart. Why does the Spirit of God say “Jeremias” if the quotation is really found in Zechariah? We do not know exactly why. Several reasons have been suggested:
- It could be a simple error in the copyists.3
- It could be that the name of Jeremiah was on the roll, as the first book in the roll which contained Zechariah.4
- It could be that Zechariah’s minor prophecy was in the characteristic of Jeremiah’s major work.5
- It could be that Jeremiah predicted the same thing, and that Zechariah may have written what Jeremiah predicted.6
If I had to guess, I would go with reason #4, because it says that Jeremiah spoke it, but doesn’t say he wrote it. Also, there is much interaction with “the potter” in Jeremiah (ch.18). In either case, there is no reason for this to trouble the reader. The amount was thirty pieces of silver, which was the price to replace a slave (Ex. 21:32) that was accidentally killed. It is referred to as a “goodly price” in holy sarcasm. “The children of Israel” thought so little of their Messiah that Judas was only able to bargain for thirty pieces.
The Trial Before Pilate (27:11-26)
Accusations made against Jesus by the Jews. When the Jews had interrogated the Lord, they accused him of two things:
- He intended to destroy the temple (Matt. 26:60-61). This was totally false, and Jesus did not answer it. He said that the temple would be destroyed, but not that He would do it.
- He spoke blasphemy (Matt. 26:63). This was totally false. When asked if He were the Christ, the Son of God, He answered in the affirmative. This would have been blasphemy if it were not true, but it was true.
But then they bring the Lord before Pilate, they bring before the civil authorities other accusations, totally false, that were particularly designed to alarm the Roman proconsul. This comes out most strongly in John’s gospel, where we find the Jews putting pressure on Pilate by saying; “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). They accused the Lord of seven things, which are not listed in Matthew, but simply denoted by Pilate as “many things” in v.13.
- He was perverting the nation (Luke 23:2) – that Jesus was somehow a corrupt moral influence on Israel. He was totally the opposite!
- He was a malefactor (John 18:30) – that Jesus was an evil-doer. To the contrary, He did no sin, and Pilate found no fault in Him.
- He was forbidding people to pay taxes (Luke 23:2) – that Jesus was denying Roman authority to collect taxes. To the contrary, Jesus taught Peter not to offend the powers that be (Matt. 17:27).
- He stirred up the people (Luke 23:5) – that Jesus was an insurrectionist, seeking to start a Jewish rebellion against Rome. This was not true at all. He rather taught them to submit to one another, and to the government.
- He called Himself a king (John 18:34) – that the Lord was seeking political power. Jesus did affirm that He was the king of the Jews, but He did not seek political power in this world. Instead, He said “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
- He was speaking against Caesar (John 19:2) – that Jesus was making political attacks against the Roman Emperor. To the contrary, the Lord taught men to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21).
- He made Himself the Son of God (John 19:7) – that Jesus was falsely claiming equality with God (John 5:18). The truth is, Jesus did claim to be the Son of God, and He was the Son of God. This was not only the charge on grounds of blasphemy before the Jewish council, but also it was construed to be a slight against Caesar. The Roman Emperors claimed to be Divine, or else descendants of the gods, and actually used the title, ” a son of god”.
Testimonies of Our Lord’s Guiltlessness. All through these accounts we have interspersed testimonies of the Lord’s righteousness in the face of accusation. Judas spoke of the Lord as “guiltless” (Matt. 27:4). Pilate’s wife referred to Jesus as “that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19). Pilate repeatedly vindicated the Lord, and called Him “this righteous one” (Matt. 27:24). Herod found “nothing worthy of death” in the Lord (Luke 23:15). The thief beside Jesus on the cross said “this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:41). The centurion standing by said, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). In spite of all these testimonies, Jesus was nonetheless awarded a brutal form of execution, reserved for the very worst criminals.
Initial Interrogation (27:11-14)
Within and Without the Judgment Hall. It may be helpful to know that the Jews refused to enter the praetorium on the Passover day, and therefore they “went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled” (John 18:28-29), and made Pilate come out to speak with them, then go back inside to speak with Jesus. As well as show the punctilious and sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Jews, this fact also explains why the conversation is structured the way it is.
¶ 11 But Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor questioned him, saying, Art “thou” the King of the Jews? And Jesus said to him, Thou sayest. 12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and the elders, he answered nothing. vv.11-12 The Lord answered the question of Pilate, because He recognized Roman authority. The Lord was the “king of the Jews”… in fact, His being the Messiah, rejected by Israel, is the theme of the whole gospel of Matthew. However, the Lord would not answer any of the accusations the Jews made against Him. They had no authority, and their accusations were completely false. The Jews’ accusations centered around the assertion that Jesus was seeking to build political power and launch a rebellion. That was totally false, but the Jews tried to used these accusations to get a conviction from Pilate.
The Good Confession. Paul, in writing to Timothy, told him to follow the Lord’s example when under attack by those who would detract from the sound doctrine he was maintaining. “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot…” (1 Tim. 6:13-16). The Lord set the perfect example of One who was on trial for the truth, and His life was at stake. Did Jesus swerve from the truth when Pilate asked Him; “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (Matt. 27:12)? No. In private, Pilate asked him; “Art thou a king then?” And Jesus answered fully; “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37). That was the good confession. Am I willing to confess the truth in the face of death? Our calling is to follow Christ Jesus.
13 Then says Pilate to him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? 14 And he answered him not so much as one word, so that the governor wondered exceedingly. vv.13-14 The governor was struck by the Lord’s silence in the presence of so many accusations from the Jews. Jesus displayed incredible moral beauty in this, which Pilate had never seen before. Our first instinct when we are accused is to defend ourselves. The Lord never did that, unless He was defending the glory of God. He fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah; “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
Pilate’s Futile Attempts to Avoid Responsibility (27:15-23)
Multiple Attempts. Pilate knew that he was caught up in a movement of the Jews to eliminate a perceived threat to their own power. He could plainly see that Jesus was guiltless of all their accusations. Later on, Peter could look back on this incident and say that “Pilate… was determined to let him go” (Acts 3:13). Among other things, Pilate’s wife had a dream, and thereafter pressured him to have nothing to do with “that just man”. Pilate tried numerous techniques to avoid the responsibility of Jesus’ death.
- Appeal to Roman political tolerance… “Take ye him, and judge him according to your law” (John 18:31). This failed, because the Jews had lost the right to exercise capital punishment. The responsibility was again laid before Pilate.
- Appeal to official jurisdiction… “And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:7). This failed also, because Herod send Jesus back to Pilate.
- Appeal to reason… “whom will ye that I release unto you; Jesus or Barabbas?” (Matt. 27:15-23). Hoping to put some sense into them, Pilate suggested that a murder be released instead of Jesus. Barabbas was far more likely to bring Roman wrath on the Jews than Jesus was. But they had long since given up reason, blinded by their own hatred.
- Appeal to morality… “Why, what evil hath he done?” (Luke 23:22). Repeatedly, Pilate appealed to any remaining sense of morality. How can you put someone to death who has done no evil? But these were deeply immoral men.
- Appeal to humanity… “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). Running out of options, Pilate brought Jesus out to the porch so they could see Him with their own eyes. He was hoping they would see Him as a man like any other, and have a pang of human sympathy, and recant their sentence. But they were devoid of even natural affection.
- Appeal to national sentiment… “Behold your king!” (John 19:14). Again, Pilate presented the Lord to them as their king, hoping they would catch a glimpse of Him arrayed so, and having a pang of national pride, recant their sentence. But they were blinded.
- Appeal to ceremony… “[Pilate] having taken water, washed his hands before the crowd” (Matt. 27:24). Finally, Pilate ceremonially washed his hands, declaring “I am innocent”, as if that simple action could clear his guilt. It was a vain hope.
None of these attempts were successful. God was pressing the issue of truth down on Gentile as well as Jew. When pushed to the limit, would Pilate uphold righteous judgment? No. He was “determined” to let Jesus go… but he was not determined enough.
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the crowd, whom they would. 16 And they had then a notable prisoner, named Barabbas. 17 They therefore being gathered together, Pilate said to them, Whom will ye that I release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? 18 For he knew that they had delivered him up through envy. vv.15-18 A Choice Between Barabbas and Jesus. We find that, by this time, the leaders had stirred up “the crowd” who joined them outside the judgment hall. The crowd was composed of Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem for the feast (John 12:12). As part of Roman political tolerance, the Romans would release one Jewish prisoner at the time of Passover, to commemorate the release of Israel from Egypt. Pilate did not want to put a man to death on the eve of the greatest holiday in Judaism, for he knew Jesus had disciples. Pilate knew that the Jews had delivered Jesus “through envy”, and that perhaps they were driven by passion. Hoping to put some sense into them, Pilate recalled the custom of releasing a prisoner, and suggested that a notable prisoner named Barabbas be released instead of Jesus. Barabbas was in prison with a number of men who had made insurrection against Rome, and he was “notable” in that he “had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). Barabbas was far more likely to bring Roman wrath on the Jews than Jesus was, and Roman wrath was what the Jews feared more than anything else (John 11:48). But this mob, called “the assembly of the wicked” (Psa. 22:16) had long since given up reason, and blinded by their own hatred, they were now “mad against” the Lord and “sworn against” Him (Psa. 102:8). Nothing could change their minds.
19 But, as he was sitting on the judgment-seat, his wife sent to him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man; for I have suffered to-day many things in a dream because of him. v.19 Pilate’s Wife’s Dream and Warning. Pilate received a chilling message from his wife, while “sitting on the judgment-seat”. God had given her a dream or nightmare somehow connected to the Lord, which caused her to do two things: (1) attest to Jesus’ personal righteousness, and (2) beg her husband to have nothing to do with him. This information served to increase Pilate’s responsibility if not his determination to release Jesus, although he might have dismissed her as superstitious.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds that they should beg for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. v.20 The Influence of the Leaders on the Crowds. These are the same crowds that had cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” less than a week earlier (Matt. 21:9). But now, they were under the influence of the Jewish leaders, who used them for their voices, much like politicians today.
21 And the governor answering said to them, Which of the two will ye that I release unto you? And they said, Barabbas. 22 Pilate says to them, What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ? They all say, Let him be crucified. 23 And the governor said, What evil then has he done? But they cried more than ever, saying, Let him be crucified. vv.20-23 They Choose Freedom for Barabbas and the Cross for Christ. Pilate pressed the question to them again, giving them yet another opportunity to change their minds. But the voices of the crowd were now one with the voices of the chief priests, and together they “prevailed” over Pilate (Luke 23:23). This choice was presented to the Jews as a political tactic, but there was far more at stake than a simple bargaining chip. Peter later reminded the Jews of this moment, and indicted them for choosing Barabbas, and showed that the moral values of the people were reflected in this choice. Barabbas was “a murderer”, but Jesus was “the Prince of life” (Acts 3:14-15). They would rather have the life-taker than the Life-giver on their streets. The choice was binary then, and it is still that way today. Why is the world full of unrest and violence? Something is seriously wrong. Go back in our history two thousand years when man made that awful, unanimous choice to reject the Prince of life and Prince of peace. Strangely, the name Barabbas means “son of” (‘bar’) “a father” (‘abbas’). Satan used an instrument whose very name was a mockery the true Son of the Father. Pilate asked weakly; “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” This is a question every man must face sooner or later where the gospel is known. God has made faith in His Son to be the hinge-point that determines man’s blessing or destruction (John 3:18). He is the stone of stumbling and rock of offense to those who reject Him, but the corner-stone to those who believe. You cannot pass Him by without a decision.
Jesus Condemned by Pilate (27:24-26)
24 And Pilate, seeing that it availed nothing, but that rather a tumult was arising, having taken water, washed his hands before the crowd, saying, I am guiltless of the blood of this righteous one: see “ye” to it. v.24 Pilate Washes His Hands of the Matter. Pilate said “I am innocent” meanwhile he condemned the guiltless man to death. The prisons are full of men who say “I am innocent”. Saying so doesn’t make it true. He had made numerous attempts to let Jesus go, but why did he stop now? “…a tumult was arising…” Pilate would only go so far, but he loved his position in the government more than upholding righteous judgment. Now, when Pilate said, “see ye to it”, he was giving in to the will of the people. Law and order was now gone.
25 And all the people answering said, His blood be on us and on our children. v.25 The Jews Accept Full Guilt. Together, “all the people” accepted the full guilt for the blood of Christ on them and their children. This guilt remains on the Jews until this day. In the tribulation, when God begins to work with His ancient people again, this issue will need to be brought forward and dealt with, before Israel can enter the Millennium. This corresponds to the Day of Atonement in Lev. 23. There will be a great weeping over Israel’s sin of crucifying their own Messiah. Not that the individual Jews in a future day will be personally guilty, but that the nation is guilty. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). But until that day comes, the Jews (the two tribes) remain in a condition of bloodguiltiness.
26 Then he released to them Barabbas; but Jesus, having scourged him, he delivered up that he might be crucified. v.26 Jesus is Scourged and Delivered Up to Be Crucified. Pilate weakly gave into the Jews’ demands, and released Barabbas but condemned Jesus. Now we see the cruelty of Pilate and the Romans come forth. Pilate had Jesus scourged. Roman scourging was generally part of the crucifixion process, designed to severely weaken the condemned, increase pain and infection, and shorten the time on the cross. The instrument used in scourging was a flagrum; a short whip made of leather ropes connected to a handle, with knots and bits of metal or bone attached to the ropes. It was designed to remove flesh, and would leave deep gashes called “stripes” on the victim (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:23). These wounds would make the rubbing motions necessary to breath on the cross even more painful. Jesus submitted to this form of awful torture patiently, in perfect obedience to His Father’s will. The scriptures “I gave my back to the smiters” (Isa. 50:6) and “The ploughers ploughed upon my back; they made long their furrows” (Psa. 129:3) were fulfilled when they scourged Jesus.
“Are we better than they?” Paul asked this question of the Jews in Romans 3:9. The answer was “No, in no wise”. It is possible or even probable to read this account of the sufferings of Christ and abstract ourselves from the situation. It is possible to somehow think better of ourselves due to our culture or education. But these were men just like you and me. We must see that we, in the flesh, are capable of the same things. Horatius Bonar, in his touching hymn I See the Crowd in Pilate’s Hall, put it this way:
I see the crowd in Pilate’s hall;
Their furious cries I hear;
Their shouts of “Crucify!” appall,
Their curses fill my ear.
I see the scourgers rend the flesh
Of God’s belovèd Son;
And as they smite I feel afresh
That I of them am one.7
The Sureness of Coming Glory. One thing we know for sure: when this world (Jews and Gentiles united) decided to crucify the Son of God, the judgment of this world was fixed. We look through world history, and we look around us today, and there is no answer for the wickedness recorded in this chapter. Today the name of Jesus is used as a curse word; He is still the song of the drunkard. But we know that God “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). God will get glory for His Son… you can be sure of it.
Man, the cross to Him awarded;
Man, the Savior crucified;
This world’s judgment stands recorded.
God’s own justice satisfied!
By the glory,
Christ was claimed on earth who died.8
- From the Mishnah (first part of the Talmud), in the fourth order called Nezikin (related to ‘Damages’), in the Sanhedrin tractate, it says, “In noncapital cases they hold trial during the daytime and the verdict may be reached during the night; in capital cases they hold the trial during the daytime and the verdict must also be reached during the daytime. In noncapital cases the verdict, whether of acquittal or of conviction, may be reached the same day; in capital cases a verdict of acquittal may be reached on the same day, but a verdict of conviction not until the following day.”
- Kelly, Thomas. Praise the Savior, ye who know Him! Little Flock Hymnbook #256, 1881.
- Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.
- Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.
- Kelly, W. Lectures introductory to the study of the minor prophets. London: W.H. Broom, 1874.
- Kelly, W. Lectures introductory to the study of the minor prophets. London: W.H. Broom, 1874.
- Author Unknown. I see the crowd in Pilate’s Hall. Echoes of Grace Hymnbook #223.
- Burlingham, Hannah Kilham. On His Father’s Throne is Seated! Little Flock Hymnbook #39, 1881.