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A closer look at the cross of Jesus: The Trials

09 May

What Is the Definition in the Bible of Sanhedrin?

Jesus underwent six trials. The first three were Jewish, before Annas, Caiphas and the Sanhedrin. The second three were civil, before Pilate, Herod, and then back to Pilate again. It is hardly fair to call these trials, such a mockery was made of Jewish law. As for the Jewish verdict, it was already decided, not on the basis of truth or justice, but on the basis of jealousy and expediency. As for the Roman verdict, Jesus was never found guilty of any crime. Rather, Pilate handed him over to avoid another nasty confrontation with the Jewish leaders which surely would have ended his political career.

The following points catalogue the major breaches of justice in regard to Jesus’ trials (especially according to the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin):

  1. He was arrested through a bribe (i.e., blood money).
  2. He was arrested without a clear charge.
  3. Trials could not be held at night or on feast days.
  4. They used physical force to try to intimidate Jesus during the trial.
  5. False witnesses offered conflicting testimony against him.
  6. Witnesses were not supposed to testify in the presence of each other.
  7. Jesus was asked to incriminate himself, which he really didn’t do!
  8. Jesus was not given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.
  9. The high priest never asked for a vote from the Sanhedrin, which should have started with the youngest and gone to the oldest.
  10. He was charged with blasphemy and temple violation at his Jewish
  11. trial but the charges were changed at his civil trial to claiming to be king, causing disturbances, and refusing to pay taxes. 11. He was convicted and executed the same day as his trial.

Some people doubt the credibility of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial because they have a hard time believing that these respectable religious leaders would have allowed so many illegalities. What complicates the issue further is these accounts have served as a platform for anti-Semitism on more than one occasion. Because the Jewish leaders were the perpetrators of this crime against Jesus, their descendants have been brutalized throughout church history. That is repulsive and illogical, especially since Jesus died as a result of every person’s sin, not as a result of Jewish schemes. We are all culpable. Furthermore, Matthew, Mark and John (not to mention Jesus and later Paul), were Jews and could hardly be accused of anti-Semitism (Carson, pp. 549-552).

While it is illogical to persecute Jewish people for what a few Jewish leaders did centuries ago, it is also illogical to rewrite history so as to exculpate those Jewish leaders who perpetrated this crime. They were guilty, along with the Romans, for a heinous crime and radical breaches of justice. God has already judged this act (Mt 23:37-39; Lk 13:34-35; 23:27-30). “Christians” don’t need to add to God’s judgment nor execute it.

As for these illegalities, they may not be as radical as they first appear. (1) The Mishnaic regulations may have had more relevance to the local courts (Beth Din) than to the Sanhedrin. (2) There may have been exceptions made for special cases held on feast days due to their exceptional nature and the constraints of time. (3) These regulations may not have all been extant during the time of Jesus’ trial. (4) It seems clear that the Sanhedrin here acted out of expediency (i.e., to avoid a riot among the people). Because of time constraints of the coming Sabbath and the fact that Pilate, as a Roman governor, probably only entertained new cases early in the morning, the Jewish council had to act quickly.

The bottom line is this: There were significant breaches of justice which are understandable considering the pressures the Jewish leaders felt and the volatile nature of these events. There is nothing here that is historically unreasonable. Furthermore, while we are horrified by this judicial travesty allowed by both the Jewish and Roman leaders involved, we all must accept our own role in the death of Jesus. Ours is not to place blame, but to proclaim the wonderful news that Jesus died for our sins and freed us from the guilt and punishment deserved by all.

 

Section 154 – Phase #1: Annas (Jn 18:12b-14, [15-18] 19-23)

They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Jesus is escorted from Gethsemane to the palace of the high priest. Annas served as high priest from a.d. 7-14. Since the Jews accepted a high priest for life, Annas still holds sway over the people in spite of the fact that the Romans have installed another high priest in his place. He is an immensely wealthy and powerful man. He is the one who controls the buying and selling in the temple court. Hence, Jesus’ two cleansings of the temple have been particularly irksome to Annas. His vicious greed and political clout are a deadly combination for anyone who stands in his way.

Annas uses his wealth and influence to get his way with the Romans as well as with the Jews. Five of his sons, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, and one grandson are installed by Rome as high priests. This allows Annas to manipulate their decisions without the constraints of the office (a very lucrative position, indeed). Thus, it is no surprise that Jesus is first brought to Annas even before his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the current “Roman” high priest (a.d. 18-36).

This preliminary investigation takes place in Annas’ palace. It is likely that Caiaphas also lives in one wing of the palace. Thus, it will not take long to “transfer” Jesus from Annas to Caiaphas. Both men are in agreement that Jesus must die. Caiaphas has explicitly stated so much a month or two earlier (Jn 11:49-50). If Annas and Caiaphas both live in the same palace, this would also explain how Peter’s denial takes place in both the house of Annas and later in the house of Caiaphas (Cf. Mt 26:57-58 & Jn 18:13, 15, 24). All three denials take place in the same courtyard, which is surrounded by wings of rooms.

Jn 18:19-23 19Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20I have spoken openly to the world, Jesus replied. I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.

22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. Is this the way you answer the high priest? he demanded. 23If I said something wrong, Jesus replied, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?

Annas opens the investigation with some rather inane questions about Jesus’ disciples and teachings. Jesus points out how senseless his questions are since his ministry has been public. One doesn’t need a special investigation to ascertain what Jesus did and said. It is a matter of public record. Annas is, at best, buying time, and at worst, attempting to get Jesus to incriminate himself.

One of Annas’ bruisers takes offense at Jesus’ response and slaps him in the face (cf. Acts 23:1-5). Jesus may have been impudent, but nothing in his response was illegal or illogical. Jesus demands an explanation from the guard, which he has yet to receive.

 

Section 155 – Phase #2: Caiaphas (Mt 26:57, 59-68; Mk 14:53, 55-65; Lk 22:54a, 63-65; Jn 18:24)

While Annas is investigating Jesus, Caiaphas is rounding up the troops. He has gathered certain members of the Sanhedrin, likely those privy to the plot. He has also subpoenaed a number of “friendly” but false witnesses. They are eager to testify against Jesus though they aren’t really qualified to do so.

[JN 18:]24Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

Mk 14:55-59 with Mt 26:59-60 55The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for {falseMT} evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

57Then some {twoMT} stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 56We heard him say, I will {am able toMT} destroy this man-made temple {of GodMT} and in three days will build another, not made by man. 59Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

When Annas’ interview comes to a sudden dead end, Jesus is transferred to another wing of the palace where Caiaphas resides. The High Priest bolsters himself with other members of the Sanhedrin. They are looking for evidence against Jesus. A number of antagonists volunteer to testify against Jesus but none of the them get their stories straight.

Finally a couple of stories gel. They remember a three-year-old incident. It took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he claimed that he could rebuild the temple (Jn 2:19). Both witnesses, however, misrepresent what Jesus said. They accuse him of threatening to destroy the temple of Jerusalem. But that is not what Jesus said. He said, “If YOU destroy this temple, I will rebuild it.” In addition, he was talking about his own body, not the mortar and bricks of the building. While they misrepresent his words, they very correctly understand Jesus’ symbolic action of cleansing the temple. That was a very real threat (cf. Lk 19:41-44; Mk 11:11-25; Jer 7:1-11).

 

Mt 26:62-64 with Mk 14:61-62 62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you? 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God {The Blessed One.MK}

64Yes {I am,MK} it is as you say, Jesus replied. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.

Jesus doesn’t answer this foolish accusation about him threatening the temple. Why should he? Since their testimony doesn’t agree, it is not admissible as evidence. In addition, Jesus has not come to defend himself but to die for the sins of the world. Therefore, he remains silent as prophesied (Isa 53:7).

Illegally, the high priest places Jesus under oath to testify against himself: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” (Obviously Caiaphas used those two titles synonymously). Jesus’ response in Matthew’s rendition is somewhat ambiguous. It might be interpreted as “Well, that’s what you say,” or “If that’s what you want to think, then sure.” In Mark, however, Jesus is all too clear, “I am.” The time for veiled references and subtle suggestions is over. Caiaphas asks a straightforward question and gets a straightforward reply right between the eyes.

Caiaphas gets more than he has bargained for. Not only does Jesus claim to be the Messiah; he applies messianic prophesy to himself. “In the future [lit., “from now on”] you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God…” is a clear reference to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1, two of the most obviously messianic texts of the OT. These verses will be fulfilled literally when Jesus comes back to earth. But from the day that Jesus is crucified, he will not reveal himself to the Jewish leaders incarnationally anymore. Any glimpse they get of Jesus after that day will be the majestic, nonincarnational Christ.

Mt 26:65-68 with Mk 14:64-65; Lk 22:63-64 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think? {They all condemned him.MK} He is worthy of death, they answered.

67Then they {[t]he men who were guarding Jesus,LK} spit in his face, {blindfolded himMK} and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said {demanded,LK} Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you? {The guards took him and beat him.MK}

Lk 22:65 65And they said many other insulting things to him.

This kind of talk sends Caiaphas into orbit. His fury at such “blasphemy” is fueled by delight — he finally has an excuse to kill Jesus. He tears his robe (a typical Jewish gesture of consternation either of sadness or anger: Gen 37:29; 2 Kgs 18:37; Judg 14:19; Acts 14:14). He shouts to his peers that Jesus had blasphemed. In Caiaphas’ mind, such blatant blasphemy overrides any need for proper jurisprudence. They need no more witnesses, no more formalities, no more legalities. They gave Jesus enough rope and he hanged himself. All that’s left for them to do is kick the stool out from under his feet. The other counsel members present agree with Caiaphas.

Literally, blasphemy is reviling God. This can be done by bringing God down to the human level by criticism or accusations. Or it can be done by elevating yourself to God’s level, thus making a human equal to God. This is what they accuse Jesus of doing. In their minds Jesus has scandalized God by making himself equal to God. Now, if Jesus is not who he claims to be, he deserves to die as a blasphemer according to the OT (Lev 24:10-23). But if Jesus is who he claims to be, these men are about to make a galactic mistake.

Convinced of Jesus’ guilt, they feel perfectly justified in roughing him up a bit. The guards surrounding Jesus spit in his face and begin to slap him around and perhaps even beat him with billy-clubs. Then they blindfold him and punch him in the face. It is kind of a game they played which might be called “Pop the Prophet.” Mocking him, they demand that he reveal which one of them hit him. Beyond the beating and the extended ridicule, Peter adds to Jesus’ suffering by denying him.

 

Section 156 – Peter’s Denials (Mt 26:58, 69-75; Mk 14:54, 66-72; Lk 22:54b-62; Jn 18:15-18, 25-27)

Trying to harmonize this event is a mess! All four Gospels represent different people talking to Peter. And all four evangelists intermix the narrative of Jesus’ trial inside the palace and Peter’s trial in the courtyard. As a result many of the verses describing Peter’s denial are separated from each other. This does not mean, however, that this story is merely a literary product nor does it mean that all four evangelists do not represent the events accurately. Consider these things: (1) There are two major events taking place here at the same time, one with Jesus and one with Peter. Thus one might expect a “soap-opera effect” when retelling the story. That is, they switch from one scene to another and then back again. (2) Out in the courtyard there was little light. Aside from the Passover moon all you had was the dim light of a charcoal fire with perhaps a few torches off to the side. It was difficult for the servants to see Peter. In fact, they finally identify him clearly not by sight but by his Galilean accent. If they find it difficult to see Peter surely he and John would find it difficult to clearly identify who exactly was speaking. (3) Furthermore, there were likely several people speaking at once. Thus, two evangelists might identify two different speakers and both be right. For instance, Luke says a man made the second accusation while Matthew and Mark identify a slave girl. And Mark says it was the same girl who made the second accusation while Matthew says it was a different one. John identifies a relative of Malchus who made the third accusation while Matthew and Mark say the whole group charged him. It is entirely possible that they are all correct. (4) This incident was an embarrassment to Peter and his friend John. It is not the kind of thing they would want to talk about in great detail. Perhaps their reticence to talk about it resulted in the paucity of details we now have.

We do have divergent (but not contradictory) details. The fact that this event was an embarrassment to Peter, and thus the church at large, lends credibility to its historicity. In other words, who is going to invent a story like this?! Furthermore, the confusion of detail is just what one would expect from an event on such a night as this, filled with tragedy, veiled in darkness and bathed in tears.

Yet we must not overlook the details that are consistent through each of the four Gospels. First, the confrontation with Peter began with a slave girl. The great Apostle, the manly fisherman, fell prey to fear, intimidated by a teeny-bopper doorkeeper. Second, there is Jesus. While he is on trial inside, getting beat up by diabolical men, Peter, out in the courtyard, is being sifted by Satan. Both trials are going badly but for very different reasons. Third, there is the fire. Specifically it was a heap of burning charcoal. Hence, it gave little light. There were dark shadows cast across the courtyard of the high priest that night. It was quite symbolic of the spiritual condition shrouding that palace. Finally, there is the rooster, a clarion reminder that Jesus is still in control. Although his crows were a horrific sound for Peter, they echo the sovereignty of God.

Jn 18:15-17 with Mt 26:58; Mk 14:54; Lk 22:54 15Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus {at a distance.MT, MK, LK} Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17You are not one of his disciples, are you? the girl at the door asked Peter.

He replied, I am not.

Although Peter flees from Gethsemane he doesn’t go far. Ducking behind buildings and shrubs, Peter follows at a distance with another disciple. It is almost certainly John. (1) Peter and John were known to spend a lot of time together (Jn 13:23-24; 20:2-3; Acts 3:1-2; 8:14). (2) John characteristically doesn’t mention himself in his Gospel. Surely he is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2-3; 21:20, 24). (3) There were likely priestly ties in his family which may have allowed him access to the high priest’s house.

While John is able to march right in, Peter is held up outside the gate. John goes out, talks to the girl at the door and then ushers Peter in. On his way inside she gets a good, up-close look at him and asks if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. She thinks she recognizes him; besides, he is with John. That’s a dead giveaway. The NIV has translated her question well. This English phrase (v. 17), like the Greek original, expects a negative answer. Although the question calls for Peter to say “No,” she knows better and refuses to let it go. At this point, Peter’s motives may not be to save his own skin but to gain access to the palace in order to be near Jesus or perhaps even to effect his escape.

Jn 18:18 with Mt 26:58, 69; Mk 14:54, 66; Lk 22:55 18It was cold, and the servants and officials stood {satMT, MK, LK} around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing {sittingMT/seatedLK} with them, warming himself.

Mk 14:66-68 with Lk 22:56-57; Mt 26:70 66While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter {in the firelightLK} warming himself, she looked closely at him.

{This man was with him.LK} You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus, she said. 68But he denied it {before them all.MT} {Woman, I don’t know him.LK} I don’t know or understand what you re talking about, he said, and went out into the entryway.

The spring air in Jerusalem, at 2,600’ above sea level, can get pretty chilly at night. So the servants and officials stoke up a charcoal fire [anthrakian] and sit around narrating their “heroic capture” of this villain. There must have been much speculation flipped around the fire as to what would come of all this. Perhaps they even mention the eleven fugitives that they allowed to escape. Peter gets close enough to the fire to absorb the heat but is surely careful not to allow the glowing embers to illuminate his face. Some of them sit near the coals, others stand around the perimeter. They alternate positions as they get too warm or if their knees get tired from crouching. This may explain why John says they were standing and why the Synoptics say they were sitting.

While Peter huddles among the crowd around the fire, a slave girl approaches him again. It is likely the same girl who has been watching the gate. After thinking about it for a while and then watching Peter from a distance she can’t let it go. She comes over to him and gets a better look at his face, orange with the glow of the embers. He squirms as she stares at him. Finally she blurts it out: “This man was with him!” You know she is no friend of the Jesus band by the way she refers to the Lord, “That Nazarene, Jesus” (Mk 14:67). Now the little twit is raising the suspicion of all the servants and officials in the courtyard. The situation around the fire is too hot to handle so Peter categorically and repeatedly denies knowing Jesus, pleads total ignorance, and then excuses himself. He will feel a bit more comfortable at the gate of the courtyard. It’s not so well lit, it’s away from the gawking group of servants, and it’s near the easiest escape route from the palace just in case things get out of hand.

Mk 14:69 with Mt 26:71; Lk 22:58 69When the {anotherMT} servant girl saw him there {a little later,LK} she said again to those standing around, This fellow is one of them {with Jesus of Nazareth.MT}

Mt 26:72 72He denied it again, with an oath: I don’t know the man!

Lk 22:59 with Mt 26:73 59About an hour later another {those standing near went up to Peter andMT} asserted, Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean. {Your accent gives you away.MT}

Jn 18:26 26One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?

Mk 14:71-72 71He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, I don’t know this man you re talking about.

72Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

Lk 22:61-62 with Mk 14:72 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: Before the rooster crows today {twice ,MK} you will disown me three times. 62And he went outside, {broke downMK} and wept bitterly.

Apparently Peter had a reprieve at the gate, but it was short lived. Another servant girl notices him and she too calls attention to the whole group, “Hey look what I found! It’s one of Jesus’ disciples.” This time Peter denies it more vehemently, even swearing with an oath that he doesn’t know Jesus.

The crowd around the fire isn’t all that intent on pursuing Peter. But after about an hour, when they had talked it over, and after getting a good long look at him in the shadows, several of the men decide to go have a chat with this fellow. That pretty much settled the issue in their minds. Their questions (expecting a negative answer) now become bold assertions: “You are a disciple of Jesus!” After all, they could tell by his accent that he was a hillbilly from the northern country. Then one of Malchus’ relatives confirmed it as an eyewitness, “Yes, I do know you! I saw you in the garden when you took a swipe at Malchus.”

Things are now looking rather desperate. His cover is blown. This calls for drastic measures. Peter calls down curses on himself [anatbematizō]! Essentially he swears on the penalty of hell that he doesn’t know Jesus. But he is interrupted by a rooster… just two crows. It snaps Peter out of his hypnotic desertion. At that moment he glances inside the room where Jesus is being tried. Their eyes lock. He sees Jesus’ swollen and bloodied face. But by the look in his eyes, Peter knows that none of those blows hurt quite so deeply as what Peter has just done to him. Then, like a cannon blast, the words of Jesus ring inside his head, “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” He has denied his Lord! He has fallen, and is a broken man. He runs out into the darkness, breaks down and weeps bitterly. This marks the end for Peter. In a way, it is. He will never again be the same.

 

Section 157 – Phase #3: The Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1; Mk 15:1a; Lk 22:66-71)

Luke is the only Gospel to record this third phase in detail. In fact, Matthew 27:1 and Mark 15:1 could easily be seen as the conclusion to phase two rather than a separate third phase. Furthermore, Luke does not record the first two phases of the trial at all. This has led some to say that phase 2 (Matthew & Mark) and phase 3 (Luke) are one and the same (compare Lk 22:67-71 & Mt 26:63-66), and that there are only five phases rather than six. While this is possible, it still appears that Jesus was led before the whole council at daybreak, probably in their official meeting place, the hall of Gazith. They wanted to try and make this whole messy business look as proper as possible before they led Jesus to Pilate.

 

Lk 22:66-71 with Mk 15:1; Mt 27:1 66At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, {the whole Sanhedrin,MK} met together, and Jesus was led before them. {[They] came to the decision to put Jesus to death.MT}67 If you are the Christ, they said, tell us.

Jesus answered, If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.

70They all asked, Are you then the Son of God?

He replied, You are right in saying I am.

71Then they said, Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.

It must have been about 5:30-6:00 a.m. Jesus is led to the Sanhedrin. Most of its members have been involved in the arrest and preliminary hearings (Mt 26:59; Mk 14:55). There still may have been a few members, especially those with “pro-Jesus” leanings, who missed the “goings on” of the previous evening. They will now have to be brought into the loop for this “rubber-stamp” conviction to make it official. Even if a few vote “nay” or withhold their verdict, there is no doubt the majority will support the foregone conclusion that Jesus must die. Caiaphas and his cronies have this one all but in the bag.

The Sanhedrin was the high court of the land, much like the Supreme Court of America. There were seventy members who sat in three semicircles with the defendant in the middle. They had the right to proclaim a death sentence but were not allowed to execute capital punishment (except in matters of temple violation). Any verdict of execution will have to be passed on to the Roman Governor, Pilate. Since Roman governors generally entertained new cases only early in the morning, this decision to kill Jesus must be reached “posthaste.” This trial will be short and sweet. Perhaps this can account for the brevity of our narrative on this third phase. It could also explain why the Sanhedrin covers the same ground as Caiaphas. After all, this is what solicited Jesus’ “blasphemous” confession the first time. If it worked once, surely it would work again.

Jesus is again asked to incriminate himself (cf. Mt 26:63-66; Mk 14:61-64). Jesus answers in much the same way he did before. He points out what a farce this hearing was. Their questions are not designed to discern the truth but to trap Jesus. Furthermore, if Jesus were to ask any questions of them, they will refuse to answer. Therefore, the examination is bogus and the cross-examination impossible. The trial is a sham!

Unlike Caiaphas’ earlier question (Mt 26:63), the Sanhedrin asks separately if Jesus believes he is the Messiah and if he believes he is the Son of God. Instead of just coming right out and saying “Yes,” Jesus says, “You’ll see.” When the Christ comes in the clouds with all his angels, there will be no doubt that he is who he claims to be. From this point on (v. 69) Jesus’ enemies will no longer see the incarnate Christ. Any glimpse they get of him, whether in visions (Acts 9:1-5; Rev 1:12-16) or in vindication (Lk 21:27), will be of the glorified Christ. This is a bold assertion.

This leads to their second question: “Are you the Son of God?” Jesus responds boldly and clearly: “It is as you say.” Their response is predictable; we’ve already seen it in Caiaphas. They all decide to have Jesus put to death. What an irony! The Sanhedrin finally procures the evidence needed to condemn Jesus. Yet this is also the evidence needed to believe in him. By condemning Jesus to death, the Sanhedrin condemns itself to ultimate unbelief.

Jesus must now be handed over to Pilate. The problem is that Pilate is uninterested in their accusation of blasphemy. That is not enough to get Jesus executed by the Romans. So the last bit of business for the Sanhedrin is to trump up some Roman charges that are serious enough to get Pilate’s attention. They come up with three: (1) He subverts the nation (i.e., causes riots), (2) refuses to pay taxes, and (3) claims to be a king (Lk 23:2).

 

Section 158 – Suicide of Judas Iscariot (Mt 27:3-10; Ac 1:18-19)

Matthew and Luke are the only two evangelists to record Judas’ suicide. Luke reserves it for his second volume. In Acts this pericope proves the need for an apostolic “replacement” for one who abandoned his role. In Matthew, it serves to contrast the terrible end of Judas with the righteous suffering of Jesus. It also serves as a warning of the terrible consequences of rejecting Jesus. Just as Peter’s denial “interrupts” the narrative of Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas, so Judas’ suicide “interrupts” Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Again Matthew uses this “soap-opera” style for these simultaneous scenes.

Mt 27:3-8 with Ac 1:18-19 3When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4I have sinned, he said, for I have betrayed innocent blood.

What is that to us? they replied. That’s your responsibility.

5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. {There he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.AC} 6The chief priests picked up the coins and said, It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money. 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8{Everyone in Jerusalem heard about thisAC} That is why it has been called {in their language Akeldama, that isAC} the Field of Blood to this day.

The inevitable verdict of the Sanhedrin has finally and officially been announced. We’re not told how or why Judas is privy to this announcement. But we do know that it breaks his spirit. He feels terrible about what happened [metamelomai]. Perhaps he never expected Jesus to actually be condemned. He may have thought that Jesus would overpower them as he had done before or that the people would rise to his rescue. Perhaps Judas didn’t think at all about what the consequences might be and is now overwhelmed by the result of his actions. He would not be the first (or last) person to be blinded by greed. It is good and right for him to feel bad, but that is a far cry from biblical repentance.

When Judas tries to “undo” his deed by returning the money, it is too little too late. This is a significant gesture for a man who loves money as much as Judas did. The chief priests show how little they cared about Judas or about the truth. Try as he might, Judas couldn’t stop what he has started.

So, in one last spiteful gesture, he throws the money into the temple. Now the temple is a big place so it may be difficult to pinpoint just where the coins landed. One good possibility is that he threw it back into the treasury [korbanas, a cognate of the word korban (see comments on Mt 15:5)], where the chief priests said blood money could not go. A more colorful possibility is that he threw it into the holy place [naos]. Of course no one but the priests were allowed in there. But Judas considers himself a dead man already, damned by God (Deut 21:23; Acts 1:20), so he would have few qualms about defiling the holy place, especially after how he was just treated by the chief priests. This supposition also respects Matthew’s distinction between the temple compound [hieron] and the temple proper [naos].

Judas runs out of the temple to the potter’s field where he commits suicide. Afterward the field is used as a burial plot and renamed “The Field of Blood” (“Akeldama” in Aramaic). Whether that was because it was a cemetery, because Judas died there, or because it was purchased with blood money makes little difference since all three of them are related. According to tradition, this field was on the south side of the city, on the steep hill overlooking the valley of Hinnom (i.e., Gehenna). It was a useless piece of ground where the potters of the city would come gather their clay.

We must now settle two discrepancies. First, why does Matthew say that chief priests purchased the field when Luke says that Iscariot purchased it? Answer: Luke is using “shorthand.” Since the field was purchased with Judas’ money, the sale is credited to him (posthumously) even though the chief priests actually did the paperwork. Second, why does Matthew say he hanged himself when Luke says that he fell and burst open? Is it not possible that both are true? The potter’s field is on the side of a steep hill. When Judas hanged himself, if the knot failed or if the branch broke (perhaps as a result of the earthquake), he could have fallen to a grisly death. A second more gruesome option is that he hanged himself on Friday morning and wasn’t found until after the Sabbath. In the hot Palestinian sun he could have bloated and subsequently fallen with gruesome results.

 

Mt 27:9-10 9Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.

This prophecy presents some difficulty. The words most closely resemble Zechariah 11:12-13. But Matthew attributes the prophecy to Jeremiah. Now, there are some verbal similarities to Jeremiah 32:6-16 and 18:2-3, but these passages aren’t talking about the same thing. So how are we to understand this prophetic fulfillment? A number of “solutions” have been proposed (cf. Carson, pp. 562-566). (1) Matthew made a mistake. (2) Matthew is citing the OT section which is headed by Jeremiah rather than the specific book from which the prophecy comes. (3) There is a textual variant, with weak support, which uses “Zechariah” rather than “Jeremiah.” (4) Some have gone so far as to say that Matthew followed a lost portion of Jeremiah or that Jeremiah was actually the author of Zechariah 9-11. None of these solutions, however, are satisfying.

Carson presents a more reasonable solution. Instead of looking for verbal correspondence (word by word), we should look for correspondence of ideas (thought by thought). Furthermore, we should analyze Matthew’s use of these ideas through typological exegesis so common in Matthew’s work. Here’s what we find. The thoughts of Matthew 27:9-10 correspond to Jeremiah 19:1-13. Here Jeremiah is ordered by the Lord to purchase a clay jar from the potter. He is to take it, along with the priests and elders, to the valley of Hinnom. There he is to smash the jar on the ground as a symbol of what God was about to do to Jerusalem because of its idolatry and disobedience. Furthermore, Matthew not only uses the ideas of Jeremiah 19:1-13 but the words of Zechariah 11:12-13. When he combines the two passages he only gives credit to the more prominent one (cf. Mk 1:2 citing Isa 40:3 & Mal 3:1). This comes as no great surprise.

Now for the meaning of the prophecy. When we take the ideas from Jeremiah 19, couched in the words from Zechariah 11, and apply them typologically in Matthew 27, we come up with something like this: The shepherds of God’s people were corrupt. In fact, they devalued God’s true shepherd to thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exod 21:32). Instead of purchasing independence, their “dirty money” purchased punishment and death. What’s worse, not only did the leaders of Israel reject God, so did the people. Instead of following the ones God sent to them (Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Jesus), they followed corrupt leaders and paid dearly for that mistake.

 

Section 159 – Phase #4: Pilate (Mt 27:2, 11-14; Mk 15:1b-5; Lk 23:1-5; Jn 18:28-38)

The Sanhedrin has rubber-stamped Jesus’ death sentence. They’ve trumped up several charges acceptable to a Roman tribunal. They are now ready to lead him to Pilate. Normally Pilate resided in Caesarea. But during the feasts he would often come to Jerusalem to keep a close eye on the explosive Jewish population.

[JN 18:]28Then the Jews {the whole assembly rose andLK} {bound [him and]MT, MK} led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor, {Pilate.MT, MK, LK} By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

Jesus is tied up and led from the Hall of Gazith to the governor’s palace. We’re not exactly sure where that was. It could have been in the Tower of Antonia on the northwest corner of the temple compound where the Roman garrison was stationed. A more likely spot, however, is Herod the Great’s old palace on the west side of the city. Pilate often stayed there when he came to town. If Pilate is in Herod’s palace, that would explain why Jesus is transferred so quickly to and from Herod. After all, Herod, no doubt, would also stay in this same palace when he visited Jerusalem.

Our ancient sources are even less flattering to Pilate than the Gospels. He was a self-seeking political opportunist who disdained the Jews. He was procurator of Palestine which gave him absolute power of life and death. The only court higher would be Caesar, and appeal to the emperor was reserved for Roman citizens. Upon entering office, he wanted to flatter Emperor Tiberius by hanging shields in the temple compound which had the emperor’s picture on them. The Jews were appalled. When they arrived at Pilate’s palace in Caesarea (several hundred strong) and asked him to remove the shields, not only did Pilate refuse, but he threatened to have them killed if they didn’t leave. Far from being intimidated, the Jews laid on the ground and exposed their necks for slaughter. Fortunately, Pilate realized that such a massacre would end his political career (if not his life) and granted the Jews’ request. Later, Pilate wanted to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem. He confiscated money from the temple treasury for the project. This infuriated the Jews to riot. But this time Pilate refused to back down. Obviously the emperor was well aware of these incidents and the tension between the Jews and Pilate. To make matters worse, there were rumors floating around Rome that Pilate was an accomplice in some of the uprisings against the emperor. Now, the rumors were likely not true. But Pilate was, nonetheless, being carefully watched by Rome. All this resulted in undue leverage for the Sanhedrin to coerce Pilate into executing an innocent man.

The Jewish leaders escort Jesus to the Praetorium but refuse to enter themselves lest they be defiled. If they came in contact with a Gentile, idolater, unclean foods, or any number of other such items which abounded in a pagan’s household, they would not be able to celebrate the Passover. Now, according to the chronology outlined in § 143, the Passover meal was eaten on Thursday evening. It is now Friday morning. Is there a discrepancy between the Synoptics? We think not! The Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted for seven days. On Friday there was another important meal called the Chagigah, “the leaders.” These Sanhedrinites would not want to miss it. What is striking about this verse is that these men are so scrupulous about the religious observances and so corrupt in their judicial practices at the same time (Mt 12:9-14; 15:1-9; 23:23; 28:12-13).

Jn 18:29-32 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, What charges are you bringing against this man?

30If he were not a criminal, they replied, we would not have handed him over to you.

31Pilate said, Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.

But we have no right to execute anyone, the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Lk 23:2 2And they began to accuse him, saying, We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.

This scene is incredible! These men are asking Pilate to condemn Jesus without so much as raising a charge against him. They want Pilate to rely on their own Jewish judicial process. He is not about to fall for it.

Surely Pilate is aware that a major arrest has taken place the night before. It was likely that Pilate’s own troops apprehended Jesus in Gethsemane. What Pilate is not aware of is that the Sanhedrin wants an execution. So when Pilate says, “Take him yourself,” they respond, “We can’t! Rome has stripped us of our authority for capital punishment.” That must have stopped Pilate’s pulse for just a second.

The Sanhedrin may feel that they have been constricted by Rome. The truth is, this whole scenario has been designed by God. It was he who said that the Messiah was to be crucified (Ps 22), as a cursed sin offering (Deut 21:23, Gal 3:13). Jesus knew that and predicted it (Mt 20:19; 26:2; Jn 12:32-33). Had he been executed by the Jews, he would have been stoned. However, the Roman method of execution for foreigners and traitors was crucifixion.

The Jews bring three specific charges against Jesus. (1) He subverts the nation. Now, if they could show that Jesus caused riots then Pilate would take this charge seriously. The Roman empire was so huge that they were constantly stamping out little rebellions. Consequently, they took a no-nonsense approach to rebel leaders. Furthermore, Palestine was one of the most difficult pockets to govern. Hence, this charge alone could have gotten Jesus killed. However, when Pilate sees the mild disposition of Jesus, resigned to his inevitable suffering, and contrasts that with the boisterous, demanding leaders, it is clear who is the cause of the riots. (2) They say Jesus opposes paying taxes to Caesar. That is such an obvious lie that Pilate doesn’t even touch it. Just three days earlier in the temple, in front of hundreds of witnesses, Jesus commanded the payment of taxes to Caesar (Mt 22:21). (3) Jesus claims to be the Christ, a king. That is the most serious charge, for there is only one king allowed in this empire and that is the emperor. Anyone else who makes such a claim would be executed for sedition. While it is true that Jesus claimed to be king, it doesn’t take Pilate very long to discover that Jesus’ kingdom poses no political threat to Rome.

 

Jn 18:33-38a 33Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, Are you the king of the Jews?

34Is that your own idea, Jesus asked, or did others talk to you about me?

35Am I a Jew? Pilate replied. It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?

36Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.

37You are a king, then! said Pilate.

Jesus answered, You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

38What is truth? Pilate asked.

Pilate, in typical Roman judicial form, interviews the defendant. He begins with the most serious charge. (It turns out to be the only serious charge.) Jesus’ response (v. 34) is not flippant. The verdict will hinge on the definition of the term “king” and Jesus must determine whose definition Pilate is using. While Pilate was wanting a “yes” or “no” answer, either one would have been incomplete and therefore deceptive.

Pilate appears to be a little edgy from the “get-go.” Why shouldn’t he be? He has had nothing but trouble from the Jews. His response is basically this: “Now look, your own people delivered you to me. Now work with me on this! Tell me what you’ve done to upset them.” So Jesus does. He answers both questions Pilate has asked up to this point: “Are you a king?” and “What have you done?” Answer: “I’ve established a spiritual kingdom.”

Now that Jesus and Pilate are on the same page, Jesus freely admits, “Yes, I am that kind of a king!” Here the trial turns evangelistic! Jesus, as he has done so many times before, testifies to who he is and where he came from and attempts to get Pilate to listen to truth. But he is too sophisticated and cynical for any of that! He shuts Jesus off by asking a critical question which he doesn’t even allow Jesus to answer. How different this trial could have been had Pilate listened. How different his own life could have been; how different his mark on history.

Jn 18:38b with Lk 23:4 With this he went out again to the Jews {chief priests and the crowdLK} and said, I find no basis for a charge against him.

Mt 27:12-14 with Mk 15:4 12When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13Then Pilate asked him, Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you? {Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.MK} 14But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge to the great amazement of the governor.

Lk 23:5 5But they insisted, He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.

John 18:38 records Pilate’s second of ten attempts to release Jesus. When he goes out to the courtyard where the Jews are awaiting a verdict, he plainly tells them, “The man is innocent!” That isn’t what they want to hear and they throw a fit [epischyon]. They pester, demand, and threaten Pilate until he finally gives in.

They begin by laying one accusation after another against Jesus. He is as silent then as he had been before Caiaphas. This amazes Pilate. But what can Jesus say to change their minds? He has already addressed their major accusations. There is no reason to waste his breath, and it was predicted that he wouldn’t (Isa 53:7).

 

Section 160 – Phase #5: Herod (Lk 23:6-12)

Only Luke mentions this incident. We are not surprised for he shows more interest in politics than the other evangelists. Furthermore, Luke has already mentioned Herod on several different occasions (Lk 3:1; 9:7-9; 13:31). It is an interesting and unusual encounter when the king of the Jews meets the King of kings.

Lk 23:6-12 6On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12That day Herod and Pilate became friends before this they had been enemies.

While the chief priests are shouting venomous accusations at Jesus, one of them says, “He started all this in Galilee and it has slithered all the way down here!” Bells and whistles go off in Pilate’s mind. Galilee was not his jurisdiction. That area is governed by Herod Antipas who just happens to be in Jerusalem for the Passover.

How fortunate all this is for Pilate! Herod is a convert to Judaism and appointed by Rome as a ruler of the Jews. He would be more familiar with Jewish legalities and more accepted by the Jewish populace to try this case. Here’s Pilate’s chance to rid himself of this political hot potato. In addition, he and Herod have been political rivals up to this point (perhaps vying for power with Rome). This conciliatory move by Pilate seals their friendship afterwards.

Jesus is escorted by the guards to Herod. They don’t have too far to go if Pilate and Herod are both staying in the palace of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas is eager to see Jesus for several reasons. First, he had attracted much attention in Galilee and Perea, some of which had been misconstrued as political aspirations. Herod is eager to ask him about his intentions but he hasn’t been able to catch up with this traveling evangelist (Lk 13:32). Especially in these last twelve months, Jesus has moved quickly and laid low much of the time. Second, Herod had murdered Jesus’ relative and forerunner, John the Baptist. Being superstitious, he assumed that John’s spirit had empowered Jesus to perform miracles (Mt 14:2; 16:14). Third, out of crass curiosity, he wants to watch one of Jesus’ miracles to see if they are as impressive as people say they are.

Not only does Jesus refuse to entertain Herod with a miracle, he won’t even talk to the man! Oddly enough, this “Jewish” Edomite is the only person in the Gospels that Jesus refuses to talk to. His silence continues (Isa 53:7), even before Herod. Herod’s last chance to repent had been at the preaching of John the Baptist, which he himself cut short.

The chief priests follow Jesus, spewing charges as they go. Herod grills Jesus who just stands there in stoic silence. Such a response (or lack of it) infuriates Herod. So he delivers Jesus to his guards to “toy” with him. Herod himself joins in the abuse and mockery. Such behavior is well beneath a king and betrays his lowly character. In fact, it is possibly Herod’s own expensive garment which is placed on Jesus’ back. Perhaps he says something like “Well, if you are the king of the Jews, you ought to dress like one. Here, let me help.” When they have exhausted the entertainment afforded by such derision, they send Jesus back to Pilate, much to Pilate’s chagrin.

 

Section 161 – & 162 Phase #6: Pilate (Mt 27:15-30; Mk 15:6-20a; Lk 23:13-25; Jn 18:39-19:16a)

[LK 23:]13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.

Pilate’s heart surely sinks when he sees Jesus returning from Herod. He wears a royal robe of mockery, but there is no guilty verdict. There are only accusations from the chief priests who continue to trail Jesus through these trials. Pilate assembles these leaders and says, “Now look, you have accused him of sedition. You’ve watched and listened as we interrogated him. But neither Herod nor I have found any substance to your allegations.”

Pilate knows that the Jews will never for a minute allow Jesus off “scot-free.” So he attempts to take the middle ground — beat him up real good and then let him go. Pilate is attempting to gain clemency through pity.

Mk 15:6-10 with Mt 27:15-17 6Now it was the {governor’sMT} custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7{At that time they had a notorious prisoner,MT} A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9Do you want me to release to you {Barabbas, orMT} the king of the Jews, {Jesus who is called ChristMT}? asked Pilate, 10knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.

Up to this point, the primary movers and shakers of this trial have been the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin. It now appears that another crowd has shown up on Pilate’s doorstep. They are Jewish citizens, probably most of whom live in Jerusalem. They’ve not come specifically for Jesus’ trial. In fact, very few know about it outside the Apostles and the Sanhedrin. This group comes to ask Pilate to release a prisoner in celebration of the Passover. It is a mystery just when and how this custom developed. Nonetheless, it would certainly endear Pilate to the Jews (which he badly needed). It also affords Pilate yet another opportunity to try to release Jesus.

Pilate is well aware, through his informants, that Jesus is an immensely popular man. Surely Jesus did not escape his notice at the Feast of Tabernacles six months ago or the Feast of Dedication three months ago. Surely Pilate is acutely aware of the Triumphal Entry, cleansing of the temple and the day of discussions on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week. The bottom line is this: The crowds love Jesus. Pilate knows this and is now going to attempt to turn the populace against their leaders.

Pilate gives them a choice: Jesus or Barabbas. That’s not a choice between good and bad. To many in this crowd, Barabbas would be a hero as an insurrectionist against Rome. Although the NIV says he was “notorious,” the word could also be understood as “noted” or “famous” (cf. Rom 16:7). It describes a person who was well-known whether it was for good or bad. He is called an insurrectionist (Lk 23:19), a murderer (Lk 23:19) and a robber (Jn 18:40). Most likely what we have here is someone who opposed Rome by plundering and even killing Roman soldiers and collaborators. It is interesting that the two other criminals crucified with Jesus are also described as “robbers” [lēstēs] like Barabbas. It is entirely possible that they are partners with Barabbas and that the three of them were already scheduled for crucifixion that day. If this is the case, then Jesus took Barabbas’ place. Now that would be an odd turn of events. Jesus, the Son of God, takes the place of Barabbas, whose name means, “the son of a father.”

While most of the crowd will be pleased with either option, Pilate is sure they will choose Jesus over Barabbas. After all, the people love Jesus; it’s the Jewish leaders who hate him. Pilate sees through the veneer of their false accusations to the deep envy which motivates their castigation of the Christ. Envy was not merely a vice according to Hellenistic moral philosophy, it was a social construct within the broader values of shame/honor. By the very nature of things, one only envies those of equal status. Thus, Jesus is recognized as a peer with these religious elites. They attempt to reduce Jesus’ status (and thus increase their own) by murdering him.

Mt 27:19-21 with Mk 15:11 19While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him. 20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded {stirred upMK} the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.21 Which of the two do you want me to release to you? asked the governor.

Lk 23:18 18With one voice they cried out, Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!

The trial is interrupted by an urgent message from Pilate’s wife. She warns him not to get tangled up with Jesus because he is innocent. The night before she had a nightmare about him. Perhaps it was prompted by hearing that her husband dispatched a cohort to arrest Jesus at the request of the Jews. Whatever prompted it, the Romans interpreted dreams as messages from the gods. Pilate, as a superstitious man, must be deeply moved by this communique which confirms what he has already unequivocally stated several times: Jesus is innocent. The dream would also start Pilate thinking that this execution involved more than the affairs of men.

The crowds, stirred by their leaders, begin to shout: “Away with this man!” That must have taken Pilate aback. They were shouting for him on Sunday and against him on Friday. How could this fickle crowd turn so quickly? First, the two crowds were not entirely the same. The majority of this crowd would have been Jerusalemites while the crowd on Sunday was primarily pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem. We have already seen at the Feast of Dedication (Jn 7) that the majority of the Jerusalemites were against Jesus while the majority of the pilgrims were for him. Second, the crowds supported Jesus as a political Messiah. Right now he doesn’t look too much like a triumphant king, vanquishing the oppressive Roman empire. That may have quickly turned them off. Third, most commoners would buckle under the face-to-face pressure of these prominent leaders. These were desperate times, charged with emotion. These reactionary people were easily moved to action, whether right or wrong.

Lk 23:20-22 with Mt 27:22-23; Mk 15:12-14 20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. {What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ, king of the Jews?MT, MK} 21But they kept shouting, Crucify him! Crucify him! 22For the third time he spoke to them: Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him. {But they shouted all the louder, Crucify him! MT, MK}

The judicial process has long since broken down. Reason is out the window. Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus through Herod and through Barabbas have failed. The leaders are more fervent than ever, and now the crowds have jumped on their bandwagon. Yet Pilate is more convinced than ever that Jesus is innocent and may even suspect that “the gods” are involved in this contest. Pilate wants, in the worst way, to let Jesus go. But things look pretty grim.

He now returns to his earlier plan (Lk 23:16), to beat Jesus soundly and hope for pity from the people. When he announces this to the crowd, they object all the louder. With one voice they chant: “Crucify him!”

Jn 19:1 1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

Mt 27:27 with Mk 15:16 27Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium {palaceMK} and gathered the whole company of soldiers around.

Jn 19:2-3 with Mt 27:28-29 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They {stripped him andMT} clothed him in a purple {scarletMT} robe 3and went up to him again and again, {and knelt in front of him and mocked himMT} saying, Hail, king of the Jews! And they struck him in the face.

Mk 15:19 19Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.

Jn 19:4-5 4Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him. 5When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, Here is the man!

Mk 15:20a 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him.

Jesus is whisked back inside the Praetorium under guard. All the soldiers on duty from that cohort join in the attack. Flogging was a gruesome punishment which these soldiers seemed to enjoy. Their inhumane and indecent treatment of Jesus springs not so much from anger at him personally, but at his people who had caused so much trouble for the Romans. To these soldiers, who are merely peace-keeping forces in an occupied territory, all this was mere sport. Like a cat who has caught a mouse, the joy is not in the kill but in the torture of its victim.

Flogging was such a horrible punishment that it was illegal to flog Roman citizens without a direct edict from the Caesar. The victim was tied to a post or hung from a wall. Either method drew the muscles taut across the victim’s back. The soldier would then use a flagellum, also called a “cat of nine tails.” It was a short wooden stick with (often) nine thong strands attached to it. At the end of each strand was tied something sharp (e.g., bone, metal, glass), or metal balls. The purpose was not to lash out quickly so as to inflict welts. Rather, the soldier would attempt to rake the victim’s back with the sharp objects, literally shredding the muscles of the back, buttocks and legs. The Jews limited the lashes to thirty-nine. The Romans, however, were hindered only by their animosity and endurance. So much muscle was left shredded and hanging that the victim’s vertebrae were exposed and sometimes even his intestines. Often the “tails” would whip around the victim’s face, gouging out his eyes.

It is not surprising then, that flogging alone was lethal about six out of ten times. Those that survived were usually carried out on a stretcher with permanent mutilation.

Even after all this, the soldiers’ thirst for blood is not satisfied. They find a thorny branch and weave it into a mock crown, imitating the coronation wreath of Roman leaders. They place it on his head, then press it down on his brow. The pain from this would be minimal compared to what he has already suffered. There are not an abundance of nerve endings in the forehead, but there are many capillaries. The result would be a bloody mess which would mat Jesus’ hair, fill his ears, and cloud his vision.

The mock coronation continues. Jesus is stripped (a shameful experience for a modest Jew), and dressed in a purple robe, most likely an old faded military cape. They put a rod in his hand to imitate a ruler’s staff. Then the soldiers come up one at a time to pay their homage to him. They kneel before him and mockingly say, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They rise, spit in his face, slap him upside the head, grab the rod from his hand and used it to drive the crown of thorns deeper into his brow.

When the soldiers are finished with him, Jesus is returned to the governor. Pilate goes out to the clamoring crowd and again affirms Jesus’ innocence. Then with a dramatic flair he calls for the bloody spectacle. Surely this is enough to solicit their pity…. But it isn’t. Against all humanity and sensibility, as if controlled by a Satanic spell of hatred, they shout all the more, “Crucify him!”

The blood from Jesus’ back begins to coagulate in the fiber of the purple cloak. When they bring Jesus back inside, the soldiers callously rip the robe from his back, opening afresh the gaping wounds of the flogging. They return to him his simple garb, the cloak and tunic of a Palestinian peasant.

 

Lk 23:20-22 with Mt 27:22-23; Mk 15:12-14 But Pilate answered, You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.

7The Jews insisted, We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.

8When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. Where do you come from? he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10Do you refuse to speak to me? Pilate said. Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?

11Jesus answered, You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.

Pilate is frustrated and wants no part of this messy business. Snidely he says, “You take him and crucify him.” The fact is, they cannot legally do that. That’s Pilate’s point: “This is nothing more than a lynching, and I want no part of it.” There is no evidence to support their charge of sedition against Jesus.

Now the truth comes out. The Jews want Jesus executed, not for sedition, but for blasphemy. Jesus has claimed to be the Son of God. That is true. Blasphemy, according to the OT, held the penalty of death. That was true. But what if Jesus really is the Son of God? That is the question racing through Pilate’s mind now. His superstitious nature, his wife’s dream, and the Sanhedrin’s new accusation all clash together in Pilate’s mind in a single question: What if Jesus is who he claims to be?! This was a frightening thought (cf. v. 8).

Pilate is now at square one — interrogating Jesus again. Well, that makes sense; he has just received a new charge against him which must be investigated. The problem is, Jesus won’t talk with him this time! Why? Because Pilate asks a stupid question. Pilate knows that Jesus is from Galilee; that’s why he sent him over to Herod. Pilate knows that Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world; that is the first thing they talked about (Jn 18:36). So why should he ask where Jesus is from? The problem is that Pilate is merely at a loss as to how to investigate this new charge. He is a Roman, not a Jew. He neither understands nor cares about this theological debate about blasphemy.

Jesus’ silence adds to Pilate’s frustration and fear. He lashes out at Jesus saying, “Don’t you know that I have the power of life and death over you?” That is true; and Jesus doesn’t deny it. But Jesus reminds Pilate that any power he has was bestowed to him as a trust. They may disagree on its origin. Jesus says it is from his Father, God. Pilate would claim that it was from Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Nonetheless, they agree that Pilate has an obligation to wield his power for justice, not for political expedience. Jesus’ claim that God is indeed his Father again opens the floodgate in Pilate’s mind to that single ominous question, “What if…?” This discussion so moves Pilate, in fact, that he tries all the more earnestly to release Jesus from this moment on.

Jesus also points out another truth in his brief reply (v. 11). While Pilate has an obligation to execute justice and will be held liable if he does not, the Jewish leaders who arrested Jesus and press for his execution will be even more liable. Neither the Jews nor the Romans can be exonerated for this crime. In fact, the crowds will call for Jesus’ blood to be on them and on their children (Mt 27:25). We have no way to know if God honored their request, but it would be a gross misinterpretation and a horrific injustice against humanity to use Matthew 27:25 to support anti-Semitism. At the same time it would be irresponsible exegesis and inaccurate history to say that the Jewish leaders were not the primary force behind the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jn 19:12 12From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.

Lk 23:23 23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified.

Jn 19:13-15 with Lk 23:23 13When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.

Here is your king, Pilate said to the Jews.

15But they shouted, Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!

Shall I crucify your king? Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar, the chief priests answered. {And their shouts prevailed.LK}

Mt 27:24-25 24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. I am innocent of this man’s blood, he said. It is your responsibility! 25All the people answered, Let his blood be on us and on our children!

Lk 23:24 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

Mk 15:15 with Jn 19:16; Lk 23:25 {FinallyJN} 15Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified {and surrendered Jesus to their will.LK}

Pilate knows that Jesus is right. He has to execute justice! He marches out to this clamoring mob with a new resolve to release Jesus. But now they start playing dirty. They say that if Pilate releases Jesus, he is no friend of Caesar because Jesus opposes Caesar when he claims to be a king. Translation: “If you don’t kill Jesus for us, we will accuse you before Tiberius as a seditionist along with Jesus and your political career (if not your life), will be over!” That was a hit below the belt. Pilate begins to crack. He will not give Jesus over merely for the avarice and envy of the high priests. But he will give him over to save his petty political career which would end in a mere three years anyway. (He will be banished by the emperor.) As feeble as that sounds, many have betrayed Jesus for much less.

Pilate brings Jesus out before the mob once again. Now he stands on the stone pavement (Gabbatha) where he will hear his sentence. All is now mockery: the Sanhedrin pretends to be loyal to Caesar; Pilate pretends to absolve himself of Jesus’ murder; and both parties pretend to practice judicial proceedings. All that remains of justice is a veneer of formality. All senses are dulled by the incessant chant, “Crucify him!” When Pilate mocks the crowd saying, “Here is your king,” they nearly riot in response. He knows he has lost and will cave in to their demands. He washes his hands. This too is a mockery of the Jews. The practice was probably Jewish, not Roman (cf. Deut 21:6; Ps 26:6). With a visual demonstration that his antagonistic audience would understand, Pilate says one last time, “I want no part of this!”

So Barabbas is released. Jesus is prepared for execution. We are horrified by the scene; repulsed by each player. Yet we strangely feel a part of the plot. Somehow we are there, on the wrong side of justice. As we survey the hordes we have come to loathe, we realize that we are among them.

John looks at his watch and marks the hour. It was approaching noon on Friday, the day of preparation. However, Mark 15:25 says that Jesus was crucified about 9:00 a.m. It would appear that we have a contradiction on our hands. How can Jesus be crucified at nine if Pilate gives his sentence at noon? In an attempt to solve this apparent discrepancy, some scholars propose that John uses a Roman-civil timing which begins counting the hours of a day from midnight and noon as we do today (cf. Hendriksen, pp. 104-105; B. F. Westcott, 2:324-326). Their main support is Pliny (Natural History, 2.79.188), who says that the Roman priests reckoned a civil day as lasting from midnight to midnight for the purposes of legal leases. However, in the previous sentence he said that “the common people everywhere” count the hours of a day from dawn until dark. In fact, the Roman sundials reflect this practice. The middle of the day is “VI” not “XII.”

How then do we solve this apparent discrepancy? A number of suggestions have been offered (cf. Brown, pp. 882-883; & Morris; pp. 649-650). The most likely solution, however, is simply this: Neither Mark nor John can be expected to speak with chronological precision. Neither of them had a Timex. Nor is it likely there were sundials on every street corner. When each of them look into the sky and see the sun, they roughly estimate how late in the morning it is. The fact that their estimates differ by three hours is uncomfortable but certainly not an insurmountable difficulty. Furthermore, both of them likely record the time for rhetorical emphasis rather than chronological precision. John may be trying to emphasize how the trial drug on through the morning. Mark, on the other hand, divides the crucifixion into three segments, each three hours long. For both of them, the mention of time is not about punching a clock, but painting a picture.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2022 in cross

 

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