Monthly Archives: June 2012

Pilates Fear

What would make Pilate afraid? “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid” [John 19:8 ESV]. Jesus has just been accused of declaring himself a god, a crime worthy of death under Jewish Law, but not under Roman law. Aside from losing control of the situation, which should bring fear to any representative of the Emperor of Rome, Pilate was also steeped in superstition. He was enough of a pragmatist to know there were no gods, but he wasn’t sure. He sacrificed to gods, considered the Emperor a god and sacrificed to him, and had doubts about any and every deity. Culturally, he was a pagan. He worshipped gods at his convenience, as the situation demanded. Because he had no set moral standard he did not know how to make a decision, vacillating from extremes, showing strong emotions from fear and anger to apathy. Here, his fear lunges to the front and he is shaken.

Pilate leaves the portico and enters his headquarters, his guard bringing Jesus behind him. Jesus is either beginning or already in shock from the beating. Pilate looks at the beaten man, a new twist on the drama playing out between the Jewish leaders and the condemned. He thought Jesus a lunatic, a man who declared himself a king without a kingdom only to discover Jesus’ kingdom had no physical borders. Jesus declared his army greater than Rome’s. Yet, no one came to Jesus’ rescue. Jesus obviously operated on a truth unrecognizable to Pilate, barely recognizable to the Jewish leaders. (Modern people would suggest Jesus was living in an alternate universe.) Pilate’s question is asked in fear and exasperation. “Where are you from” [John 19:8 ESV]? Pilate knows Jesus is a Galilean so his question has nothing to do with geography. Pilate knows Jesus has cultivated the ire of the Jewish leaders to the point they want him dead. He has never met anyone with Jesus’ credentials. He claims to be a god but he is not a rebel. He claims to be a king but he has no army threatening the Empire. Everything about this man is an enigma.

Jesus does not answer Pilate. On Pilate’s authority, though he has been declared innocent over and over, he has been beaten and abused, tortured with a whip. He has been mocked and ridiculed and spat upon by Roman soldiers. He stands before the Governor wearing a ragged purple robe, a crown of thorns, bleeding profusely, sinking into trauma and shock. I visualize him, head bowed in pain and exhaustion, looking at Pilate, staring at him, giving him an answer from his eyes.

Pilate tries to regain some authority. His next two questions are arrogant posturing spoken from open desperation. “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” [John 19:10 ESV]? He has given his authority away to the Religious mob. He is allowing them to manipulate him, controlling him with fear and anger and lies. He is fully aware of what they are doing, has enough information to stop them but steadfastly refuses. Already, he has told the Jews to go ahead and murder Jesus, after symbolically washing his hands of the deed without actually being able to do so. He is not used to being confronted by a man, innocent or guilty, who would not beg for his life, or argue with him, or say anything in defense. Jesus has resigned himself to his fate.

Jesus answer shows he is still thinking clearly about what is happening even though he has been horribly tortured and mocked. “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” [John 19:11 ESV]. This king recognizes authority, especially Pilate’s authority. But, he also knows from where Pilate’s authority comes. Pilate is not his own boss. He represents Rome and the Emperor the same way the High Priest and the Jewish religious leaders represent God. Pilate has already given away his ability to make a just decision the same way the Jewish leaders hypocritically rendered their decision not based upon the law of God but a threat to their own positions. Jesus spoke like a king who understands authority and the responsibility of authority. His rebuke stings the Governor. Pilate’s offense is great but those who brought Jesus to him are culpable of a greater, more grievous offense. Pilate is allowing himself to be used as a murder weapon. They are the murderers.

Not many in this group understood the implication of Jesus’ words to Pilate. Those standing next to the condemned man, the Roman soldiers who had mocked and beat him heard his words. They knew what he said to Pilate. They could see the drama playing out between the Jewish mob and the Governor. Again, Pilate tries to release Jesus. How many times does he have to declare the man innocent?

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” [Luke 23:4 ESV]

Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” [Luke 23:15-16 ESV]

Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. [Luke 23:20-23 ESV]

And he (Pilate) said, “Why, what evil has he done? [Matthew 27:23 ESV]

Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [John 19:4 ESV]

From then on Pilate sought to release him.” [John 19:12 ESV]

Even Pilate’s wife recognized Jesus was a righteous man and tried to convince her husband to release the man. “Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream'” [Matthew 27:19 ESV].

Those more culpable for their crimes now seal their own decision. They hated Rome and the occupiers. They prayed God would deliver them from Rome. They reviled and held Pilate and any Roman Governor in contempt. They hated those who helped the Romans, especially fellow Jews who would sell their selves as Roman tax collectors. They dreamed of release from bondage when God would restore their land and reestablish self government. Their words are evidence for their true allegiance. “But the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” [John 19:12 ESV]. Their manipulation of Pilate begins to peak. They have only one more step down, one more statement to make, to condemn themselves.

Pilate has no where to go. He has already washed his hands of the incident while knowing he could never abdicate responsibility for what he allows. He comes back to the “judgment seat” and sits ready to make his decision final. “So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha” [John 19:13 ESV]. At sundown Passover would begin. According to Roman time the “sixth hour” is nine o’clock in the morning. He cannot resist a final poke at the hypocritical Jewish leaders and their mob ranting and raving before him. “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King” [John 19:14 ESV]! “Behold, your king!” standing before them in a ragged purple robe soaked in his own blood, with a crown of thorns jammed down on his head, panting and bowed and shaking from shock and trauma. Jesus is an innocent man who deserved none of the torture he endured.

This mob sees Jesus and cries out in hatred and bitterness, the evidence of envy. “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” [John 19:15 ESV]! Pilate digs into their souls even further. “Shall I crucify your King” [John 19:15 ESV]? Their answer comes from purely emotional, unthinking, uncaring motivations willing to dehumanize anyone who would threaten their power and authority and place within Judea and before the people. With these words, however, they abdicate their citizenship as God’s people and align themselves with Rome. “We have no king but Caesar” [John 19:15 ESV].

“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified” [John 19:16 ESV]. Jesus is a walking, breathing dead man who hasn’t yet died. What Pilate doesn’t know but the Religious leaders do is Jesus said he would die but be raised from the dead. Jesus will die with no hope of resucitation. Too many people trained to kill will be involved in his death. Too many people thinking he was dead will see him alive. Pilate thinks the drama is almost over. Jesus’ death ends nothing. Jesus’ resurrection begins everything.

Third Time Before Pilate

This is the third time Pilate has seen Jesus during his “trial.” Before Pilate became involved the first time Jesus had been arrested by Caiaphas, the Chief Priest, and the temple guards. He had been taken to Annas’ house first then to Caiaphas house where he was condemned to death and beaten by the guards. This was at night. After sunrise he was taken to Pilate, who examined him and found him not guilty of doing anything wrong. Pilate proposed to have Jesus punished and released. Caiaphas’ mob demanded he be murdered. Pilate discovered Jesus was a Galilean and sent him to Herod who ridiculed Jesus and allowed his guards to beat him. Herod returned him to Pilate who told the mob even Herod had found Jesus not guilty. Jesus is standing before Pilate and the mob beaten and bruised, an innocent man condemned by a jealous, envious, group of religious leaders. This mob of religious leaders asks Pilate to release a notorious criminal, condemned to death, and have Jesus, who is innocent, crucified in his place.

Washing his hands of the decision Pilate turns Jesus over to his guards who prepare him for crucifixion. He was scourged, his body traumatized. He was mocked and ridiculed, each Roman soldier present in turn hitting him and spitting in his face. A crown of thorns was shoved down onto his head and a purple garment thrown over his torn and lacerated back. Then Pilate brought him back out to stand before the mob. “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him” [John 19:4 ESV]. Once again Pilate tells the mob Jesus is not guilty of any crime, had broken no Roman law and did not deserve death. He had suggested punishing Jesus and letting him go. “So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man'” [John 19:5 ESV]! What the crowd witnessed was a man punished by Roman soldiers trained in sadism. He did what he had proposed doing to a man who was innocent. Pilate could have easily at this time released Jesus and told the High Priest he would not be their executioner. Perhaps there was a vain hope in him the mob would see a beaten and broken man, ridiculed and mocked, bleeding from every part of his body and decided Jesus had suffered enough. He wanted them to let the man go.

Once a mob begins chanting a slogan or mantra, a phrase meant to excite the emotions and inhibit the intellect, it is almost impossible to stop them. This mob had been chanting “crucify him, crucify him” [John 19:6 ESV]! and would not be satisfied until the man they wanted murdered was near death hanging on a cross. John identifies the mob demanding Jesus’ murder. They were “the chief priests and the (temple guards) officers” [John 19:6 ESV]. These are the ones, as we have said, who were responsible before God for the spiritual welfare of the people. They taught the people God’s laws, enforced His justice and were the examples of godliness to the world. Now they were inciting a mob of their own people to throw away their responsibility, their leadership positions, their relationship with God to have a man murdered. Not just murdered but tortured to death.

Pilate continues to try to rid himself of this decision. He makes another telling statement, coming close to enforcing his decision but unwilling to impose his will upon those he governs. He knows the Jewish leaders cannot carry out an execution, though they have before and they will again. “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him” [John 19.6 ESV].

According to Jewish law Jesus’ crime of making himself equal to God was a capital crime. “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” [John 19:7 ESV; see Matthew 26:63-65]. These people knew the Law and were referring to Leviticus. “Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” [Leviticus 24:16 ESV]. God’s judgment on such crimes was stoning not crucifixion. After the person is dead their body may be hung up for display but crucifixion or impaling as a means of execution was a thoroughly barbarian act and never alluded to in the Law of the Jews.

Pilate wants to release Jesus, after having him punished, which he has done, while the Jewish leaders want Jesus executed in a manner which inflicts the most pain effectively erasing the criminal’s humanity. It is ironic that the High Priest and the Jewish leaders refer to the Law in Leviticus 24:16 but ignore the verse following their excuse for the capital sentence. “Whoever takes a human life (unjustly) shall surely be put to death” [Leviticus 24:17 ESV].

Pilate has just heard a new accusation. This accusation has nothing to do with being a king, or inciting rebellion against Rome, or telling people to not pay taxes. Jesus is standing next to him, bleeding profusely, a crown of thorns jammed down onto his head, a purple garment spread over his lacerated shoulders. He is going into shock. Pilate knows he is an innocent man. Jesus has done nothing wrong. Nothing he has done has violated Roman law. Jesus’ supposed violation of Jewish law is of no concern to the Governor. Before him mills a mob of men consumed with hatred. His job is to protect the innocent from such a mob. So far he has not done his job. Now they accuse Jesus of claiming to be a god. “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid” [John 19:8 ESV]. Pilate is alarmed. He has lost control.

Scourged and Mocked

Even though Pilate symbolically “washes his hands” of the matter he must still approve the penalty and enforce the sentence. Listening to the mob shouting their demands he agrees, releasing a man guilty of crimes against Rome and sentencing to death a man who has, by his own words, done nothing worthy of death. “Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” [Matthew 27:26 ESV]. Part of the death sentence imposed by Rome was scourging, being beaten with a multi-tailed whip imbedded with rocks and metal. Doing this had, for those in authority, a number of advantages. First, it took all of the struggle and fight out of the man condemned. Second, it provided a visual example to those under Rome’s authority to not do anything against Roman law or the will of those in authority. It imposed the maximum amount of suffering on the condemned who would then hang from a cross unable to do anything but survive for a short while. Disfiguring the man through flogging began the process of taking away their humanity and made it easier to kill them in such a horrendous manner.

But there was another, more insidious advantage to scourging. It gave the Roman soldiers an outlet for their anger toward the people they had conquered. It entertained them. Their minds and hearts had been trained by Rome, and their experiences only reinforced their training designed to teach and ingrain unforgiving brutality. Controlled by Rome meant they were not free to hurt and harm and maim and oppress, until they were released and given permission. Once released the full extent of their brutal training surfaced and moved into full action.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a vine of thorns they put it on his head as a crown and put a reed in his right hand as a scepter. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. [Matthew 27:27-31 ESV; see also John 19:1-2 and Mark 15:16-19]

Notice the actions of the soldiers as described by these three documents. Obviously, there were soldiers present throughout the “trial” of Jesus, listening to Pilate ridicule the High Priest and goad them into hypocrisy. Perhaps, while Pilate was questioning Jesus alone the guard present had seen him roll his eyes at Jesus’ words, heard the sarcasm in his voice as he asked “what is truth?” and agreed to condemn an innocent man. Pilate may have glanced over at the guard, made eye contact, and given the impression he was talking to a lunatic. Maybe, I’m not sure without more evidence, the guard, always under control, forced himself to suppress his own laughter, seeing his authority make fun of everyone present, except the Roman guard. We do not know what went on between Pilate and those under his control. We do know he gave them permission, freed them from the constraints of discipline, and allowed them to fully vent their derision for the Jews on the person of Jesus.

Pilate had ridiculed Jesus for saying he was a king and mocked the mob for rejecting their king. So the soldiers mocked Jesus as a king. After flogging him, beating him to the point of mortal trauma, they, like Herod’s guards, heaped abuse on the man they viewed as non-human. Wanting to share the spectacle “they called together the whole battalion” [Mark 15:16 ESV] to participate. This was part of their training. Everyone learned the techniques of abuse and how to deliver maximum suffering and humility. With a stripped and bleeding back from the whip they clothed him in “purple” and placed on his head a “crown of thorns.” They gave him a scepter, a reed, then took it from him and beat him with it. They kneeled before him in mockery and cried out “Hail, King of the Jews!” while saluting him and giving him mock worship. They spit on him and struck him with their hands and the reed. As it is presented each soldier takes their turn. This was all done in the Governor’s quarters within hearing of all who lived there, including Pilate and his wife. We can only imagine the agony she endured having to listen to the abuse heaped upon a man she knew was innocent. We can only imagine the stone Pilate’s heart became as he watched and approved the slow torture and murder of a man he had determined innocent.

This is a savior? Jesus is a king? It will be hours before his murder is finished. Then he will be dead. Considering the methods used by Rome to kill people there was no possibility of Jesus escaping death or being resuscitated once the soldiers were done murdering him. All of the evidence points to his ultimate death. All of the evidence says he is alive.