Tag Archives: Matthew

Four Types of People

There were a number of identifiable types of people with similar characteristics witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion and death. They came by in groups or singly but could be easily classified into one of four groups. A few people who loved Jesus or many who hated him, and those who didn’t know him, didn’t care about him, and two who were crucified with him. Everyone present, who walked by that hill, who stood and watched or tried to ignore what was happening was affected by his death in some way.

Many people traveled into and out of Jerusalem and had to pass by the public place of execution. I visualize many simply lowering their heads and trying to ignore the suffering displayed for the world to see by those brutalized by the Romans. Many, I think having become desensitized to the suffering of the condemned ceased to care for any affixed to a cross. They faced too many almost daily acts of terror and in order to continue living a meaningful existence, especially to care for themselves, they could no longer empathize or sympathize with those who suffered. Taught, through gruesome exposure and the examples of their parents, relatives, friends and others, they lost, if they ever had, the idea another human, especially one they did not know, was valuable. Included in this large group are the Roman guards who had been taught to care for no one but Caesar and themselves.

Others, recognizing him, disfigured as he was, or being informed of who he was, reviled him. They had been taught in the same way but their hatred or apathy toward Jesus was shown in their decided lack of understanding of who he was. “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” [Matthew 27:39-40 ESV]. They vilified him. Some, remembering statements from the beginning of his public appearances threw his words back in his bruised and bleeding face. He had made, in their memory, extravagant claims which seemed impossible and fantastic. Some of these may have been the same false witnesses who accused him hours earlier, in the middle of night during the illegal and illegitimate trial. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days'” [Matthew 26:59-61 ESV]. Others may have just been walking by and picked up the derisive comments from those present.

Standing at a distance reveling in their handiwork were the ones who manipulated Pilate to murder an innocent man. These were the religious leaders charged with knowing, teaching and upholding the law of God. Even Caiaphas, the High Priest, was present. Having abandoned themselves to emotional false conclusions they exhibited the qualities and evidences of thugs. Considered thinkers, wise and knowledgeable in their abilities to remember the law and teach others to follow it they switched off their ability to reason and took up the characteristics of a barbaric and vulgar people. “So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him” [Matthew 27:41 ESV]. In the most real sense their mocking statements were not against Jesus but against God. Taking the core of Jesus’ teaching they twisted it and placed upon the words requirements they had to see in order to believe. Their words threw a test into God’s face demanding from Him fulfillment of their requirements before they would acknowledge truth. In their deepest selves they would never believe the truth even if the almost dead man hanging on the cross before them actually died and was then raised as he said he would.

Listen to their statements:

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.” This statement begs a question. Did Jesus want to save himself? In their minds the only legitimate and reasonable response to being crucified was the desire to get off the cross and escape the executioners. For them being saved is limited to the physical, temporary, touchable world and has nothing to do with the internal and eternal being of the person.

“He is the King of Israel.” This is not what Jesus said but it is what they heard. Jesus said his kingdom was from another place implying not geographic boundaries but “other” or spiritual boundaries reaching places unimaginable by the limited abilities of anyone. For them Jesus declaration of royalty was a lie. For Pilate Jesus’ agreeing to the question of royalty was lunacy. His coming resurrection is the evidence of reality.

“Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” He will. They won’t.

“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” [Matthew 27:42-43 ESV] Now they demand God work. Again, their statement begs another question. Does God desire to deliver Jesus in a way acceptable to them? They have set aside God’s known law by murdering an innocent man. His only “crime” was his words, which contradicted their teaching, and the undisputable (we will look at these in time) “miracles” he did in front of too many witnesses for them to refute. Their thinking, driven by their emotions and not their reasoning, says if Jesus is actually the son of God then God will not allow him to die in such a way.

Next to him, hanging from their own devices, soon to die were two criminals. “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” [Matthew 27:44 ESV]. Luke gives a different perspective. These perspectives are not contradictory just different. One of the men crucified with him, seeking his own deliverance from death, showing no remorse at the actions which condemned him, “railed” or vilified him, picking up the mocking words of those who hated Jesus. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” [Luke 23:39 ESV]! He did not care who Jesus was as long as the man could get them down and away. No one got down or away.

The other criminal, facing his own mortality, reasoned instead of reacted. He knew he had done wrong, violated known law, done criminal actions deserving death. He knew the sentence for his crimes was death. He also seemed to know something about God. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation” [Luke 23:40 ESV]? He knew this other man. He didn’t know Jesus. Or, maybe he knew of Jesus. To fear God means to hold Him in high honor, with respect and reverence, as the One who is Judge. He knew he had done wrong in the eyes of Rome and of God. Until this moment he may have not cared. Seeing Jesus, an innocent man, subjected to the same punishment brought a conviction of the justice for his crimes but the unjust actions of the authorities toward Jesus. “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” [Luke 23:41 ESV].

Now he makes a surprising statement. This is probably the first truly extraordinary statement made by anyone from the time he was arrested in the middle of the night until now. Every other statement made and action done was the result of a logical progression of events or thought process. Of this man’s background and thinking we know almost nothing and have to assume much. We know he was a criminal deserving of death. He admits this. We know he has a concept of God, probably closely related to the Jewish idea and theology of the time because of his question to his dying colleague. But how and why he jumps to the next statement seems only an act of desperation, of grasping at straws, anything to give hope to a helpless man in a hopeless situation. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” [Luke 23:42 ESV]. Does he really believe Jesus is a king? Does he really believe Jesus is something other than a man, falsely accused, dying a slow torturous death on a cross a few feet away?

Jesus’ answer is just a startling as any he has given throughout the night and trial. Our question is not whether it is startling but if it is true. There is only one way to show the truth of any of Jesus’ statement. If what he said would happen actually happens then we can trust him to tell truth in all he says. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43 ESV]. Jesus believes his own words. He knows something only he can know with ultimate certainty. Both men will soon be dead. For Jesus death is not final.

Among the people witnessing the horror of Jesus’ execution were some of those who followed him. These people loved him. Here is the final type of person who witnessed his death.

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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.

Pilate Questions Jesus

Pilate was not an astute politician. He was in Judea because he had been appointed governor by Caesar. Judea was a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. Its only value to the Romans was its access to the Kings Highway and to the Mediterranean Sea as a shipping lane. Merchants moved by land and sea from Africa to Europe and Asia and all who to or from Africa by land had to go through this little spit of dirt between the Sea and the desert. Still, Pilate wanted to keep the peace so he worked with the local authorities. These were the religious leaders who hated the Romans but lived under their control and authority. Pilate heard some of the cases brought before him.

I can see Pilate rolling his eyes and sighing deeply at being disturbed by the people who brought Jesus. His disdain for them was equal to theirs for him. Deferring to their customs this time he went out to them so they would not be “defiled” just before one of their annual celebrations. Pilate cared nothing for them but simply wanted to do as little as necessary to keep the peace. When he came out to the portico of the praetorium, or the common judgment hall, he asked “what accusation do you bring against this man” [John 18:29 ESV]? I think they came to him rarely. His own guards were adequate for keeping the peace and arresting criminals. He was probably puzzled by the beaten and bruised man standing before him.

We have already seen the false accusations they brought against Jesus. None of the “crimes” they accused Jesus of committing even remotely concerned the Romans. They, the religious leaders, tried to make it seem like the Romans had to be concerned about this one man. Their answer assumes Pilate will believe anything they say though they should know he would not. Coupled with false statements their answer to Pilate is overly arrogant. “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” [John 18:30 ESV]. Their presence before Pilate reveals their motives. Even though they hate Pilate and the Romans as much as the Romans hate them each group uses the other to their own benefit.

Pilate sees through their duplicity immediately. He doesn’t want to get involved with anything having to do with these people, their customs or traditions. All he cares about is keeping the peace, squashing minor rebellions and keeping the shipping lines open and the taxes pouring into the Roman coffers. Roman demands this from him. Nothing else. His response shows his lack of concern for anything Jesus could have done. “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” [John 18:31 ESV]. Pilate knew they had no authority to murder anyone. He turned his back on those occasions when they did murder someone. As long as there were no riots, no disturbances, no threats of losing taxes and goods, he did not care.

Pilate knew Jesus was different. Should the Jews murder Jesus both Pilate and the Jews thought the people who followed him would riot. Neither Pilate nor the Jews wanted this type of outbreak of violence. Only the Romans could get away with murdering someone and almost guarantee no riots. So, the Jews who wanted Jesus dead told him what they wanted. “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” [John 18:31 ESV]. When the Romans put someone to death there was no possibility of the condemned ever escaping. There was no escape. They were going to die. Even this, Jesus being turned over to professional executioners, was a fulfillment of a prediction Jesus had made about how he would die. Matthew 20:19 records Jesus predicting how he would die. “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” [John 18:32 ESV].

What follows is a short discussion between Pilate and Jesus about truth. Pilate made up truth to suit his immediate need and the circumstances in which he found himself. His truth was founded upon the dictates of Rome and the pleasure of Caesar, whom he served. He placed no value on people, especially the Jews of the country he governed. If the circumstance demanded a response which would make his job easier then that was the principle he applied. Unlike the Jewish leaders who had been told truth by God, Pilate massaged it as he went along and changed it at a whim. This is why he asked the question, after taking Jesus away from those who hated him, “are you the King of the Jews” [John 18:33 ESV]?

Jesus had already been asked by the High Priest if he claimed divinity. “Are (you) the Christ, the Son of God” [Matthew 26:63 ESV]? Jesus’ answer gave the High Priest an excuse to charge him with blasphemy and condemn him to death. Pilate doesn’t recognize anyone’s divinity, except Caesar’s and only when expedient. Pilate would bow before Caesar and worship him as a god to stay alive. He knew enough about the political climate of Judea to know Jesus was not claiming anything as simple as royalty. He also knew Jesus was not leading a rebellion against Rome. If Jesus were claiming to be a god he would have simply waved the religious leaders away in disgust. He couldn’t ignore the accusation of royalty, of anyone who might threaten the stranglehold Rome had on its territories.

Jesus challenges Pilate’s thinking. He does not rebuke Pilate, call him a hypocrite or a white-washed tomb. These are epitaphs reserved for the religious leaders who claim to teach truth while ignoring truth. Jesus demanded Pilate draw his own conclusion based upon the evidence of his life not the false accusations of those who want him dead. “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me” [John 18:34 ESV]? Pilate doesn’t know Jesus and is hearing only circumstantial evidence against the man. He at least has the decency to question the accused if even in a cursory manner. Jesus does not hedge the truth. Read his words as recorded in the four documents available. He does not give anyone the luxury of manipulating truth to fit their circumstance.

Even when his life is threatened and his execution assured Jesus does not sway from his intent and motivation. He is standing before Pilate and He knows the reason he is there. Though he is executed by professional executioners he will not compromise truth and will demand those before whom he stands, or who stands before him, to acknowledge truth. No one gets to make truth up as they go or change it at whim or because they do not want to hear and accept truth.