Before Pilate

Everyone who saw Jesus that night betrayed him in some way. Judas sold Jesus for 30 silver coins, it does not matter how much they are worth in any current economy, then tried to give the money back. He would not keep it. Then he killed himself.

Peter bragged he would never abandon Jesus, as did all those who heard his bragging. All fled when Jesus was arrested by the mob. Within hours of his bragging Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. All who were close to him, who had walked with him, been taught by him, watched him work and do the impossible, forgot everything, forgot their relationship with him and ran away leaving him to die.

Jesus was at the beginning of his murder as the Sanhedrin falsely arrested him and began accusing him of things untrue in order to manufacture an excuse to have him killed by the Romans. They were the ones responsible for leading the people in righteousness before God. Their responsibility included teaching truth and leading a life based upon truth. Yet, they were unwilling to accept truth and tried to cover up their actions with outrageous lies. Their lies were based upon the rituals and traditions of men. As representatives of God nothing they did was godly. Is it any wonder Jesus criticized the religious leaders, calling them hypocrites and worse almost every time they spoke?

“Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate.” [Luke 23:1-2 ESV]

It is now morning, the day before Passover. It is called Preparation day. Passover is a celebration of remembrance, when God freed the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, bringing them out with power, then destroying the Egyptian army. God commanded all those who are His to take the blood of a lamb and smear it on their doors, the frame and posts. God passed over every house which had the blood of a lamb painted on its doors, visiting only those places who refused to obey his command. It was those places and those people who did not recognize God who felt His wrath. Every first born son, from the lowest in the stable to the palace of Pharaoh died that night. Every house was touched. Every family grieved. Except those of the Hebrews who had sprinkled the blood on their doors. God commanded this celebration of remembrance so His people would not forget and rebel against Him, to remember how He redeemed them from slavery.

They, those seeking to have Jesus murdered, wanted to eat and celebrate the Passover according to God’s will, so when they brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, they refused to enter his residence. To do so would make them unclean and keep them from being part of the celebration. Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” [John 18:28 ESV]. Perhaps they had forgotten two of the Ten Commandments, or felt they did not apply, or they were somehow exempt. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” and “you will not murder” [Exodus 20:16 and 20:13 ESV]. Perhaps the excuse they used was to manipulate Pilate into committing the murder. As long as they didn’t actually commit the crime they felt immune from the consequences of involvement. How little they knew God.

Once before Pilate, the governor, the false accusations continued. In the middle of the night, in the courtyard of the High Priest, many people tried to accuse Jesus of doing anything deserving death. There was nothing. So the High Priest concluded Jesus should die because of blasphemy, a capital offense in Jewish law. But Pilate could care less about Jewish law. He was bound by Roman law. So the mob of the High Priest tried to charge Jesus with violations of Roman law and deserved death. “And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king” [Luke 23:2 ESV].

How had Jesus misled the nation? By telling the people the truth about the hypocrisy of their leaders and teachers? Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice'” [Matthew 23:1-3 ESV]. This doesn’t sound like he is misleading anyone. Its reads like it is the leaders who are misleading the people and Jesus wants them to know the truth. He pegs them when he says they say one thing but do another. This fake trial is a perfect example.

Had Jesus ever told the people to not give “tribute” to Caesar? Quite the opposite.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. [Matthew 22:15-22 ESV]

These are not the words of a man telling people to rebel against Rome. They are the words of a man who recognizes the authority of those over him even when he disagrees with them. He never spoke against Rome. He continually spoke against the religious leaders who were misleading the people.

Finally, had Jesus ever claimed to be a king? He spoke often about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. His words were with authority and his works were the evidence of who he is. This is the only accusation which might raise Pilate’s suspicions. Pilate knew no one could keep the Roman’s from collecting taxes. Pilate thought the entire people he governed were reprehensible and valueless, except for the money he could get out of them. He had heard of Jesus, at least in passing. Had there ever been a hint of rebellion by Jesus and those who followed the man he would have squashed it without a thought. Jesus was not a threat to him or to Rome.

Pilate did begin questioning Jesus. “Are you the King of the Jews?” [Luke 2:3 ESV]. Jesus’ answer gives Pilate no reason to condemn him. In fact, Jesus answer vexes Pilate. “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me” [John 18:34 ESV]? Jesus recognizes how the Jews had influenced the way Pilate thought. They had accused him of being a king. He never acted like a king. How many kings do you know who tell people to not talk about the things he just did? How many kings walk around the countryside openly speaking to prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the lame and blind and sick? How many seeking a place of authority would walk away from a crowd of people who wanted to make him king? How many kings give away their wealth? If anyone who wants to be recognized as a king does these things it is for political expediency, for people to look up to them, place them on a pedestal. Jesus was not political. Nothing he did was as the world wanted. He will finally be placed on a cross, executed like a common criminal.

Jesus is extraordinary in his worldview. He is facing death and does not defend his actions, plead for his life, belittle or contradict those accusing him. His life is open, his words spoken in public, his actions seen by many who will witness and testify to their genuineness. There is nothing in this exchange with Pilate, the exchange which follows after Pilate sends Jesus to Herod and receives him back again, which suggests we are reading fiction.

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