on the Cross: A Violent Grace
- After His arrest, Jesus is led in to face a hastily convened council
of Jewish leaders. Caiaphas, chief priest of the Sanhedrin, presides over the
kangaroo court (John 18:24).
His religious enemies wait to hear just one thing
-- Jesus' claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God. That claim is a heresy
that Jewish law says is punishable by death. When Jesus makes the claim, they
have what they need.
"Why do we need anymore testimony?" they ask. "We have
heard it from his own lips" (Luke 22:71).
The next stop is the Roman governor,
Pontius Pilate. Since the Jews will not enter the palace for fear of becoming
ceremonially unclean, Pilate begrudgingly comes out to them, and they present
their case against Jesus on the palace steps. A vague charge of religious trespass
doesn't carry much weight with the Roman governor, so the Jewish leaders recast
"We have found this man subverting our nation," they tell Pilate.
"He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king" (Luke
Thinks he shouldn't pay taxes? Thinks he's a king? You can imagine
Pilate pondering the charges brought with such urgency so early in the morning.
This rebellious province is full of people like that! With barely a flicker of
interest, he tells the religious leaders that they don't have a case. Relieved
to learn that Jesus is from Galilee, Pilate then tells them to take the case to
King Herod, who has jurisdiction for Galilee and who is in Jerusalem for Passover.
The entourage troops off to Herod's palace.
Herod is happy to see Jesus,
but not for any legal, political, or theological reason. "He hoped to see him
perform some miracle," writes Luke (Luke 23:8). Although Herod asks Him many questions,
Jesus refuses to answer him. So Herod and his soldiers ridicule and mock him,
dress him up as a make-believe king, and send him back to Pilate. Whether he wants
to or not, Pilate will decide Christ's fate.
You've noticed, I'm sure, that
at every step of the proceedings Jesus' enemies were there to press their case.
But where was the counsel for the defense? Nowhere to be found. In Jesus' day
the sole responsibility for the fairness of a trial fell to the magistrate --
in this case, Pontius Pilate.
Yet, since we read in every Gospel account
that Pilate found no fault in Jesus and wanted to set Him free, we have to ask:
What happened to justice? Why did Pilate change his mind? Matthew even says that
Pilate's wife, Claudia Porcula, had dreamed about Jesus and sent word to her husband:
"Don't have anything to do with that innocent man" (Matthew 27:19).
you understand why Pilate's name ended up going down in history as synonymous
for cowardice and injustice, come with me behind the scenes.
of Jesus' day was a region in transition. Between 30 B.C. and A.D. 14, during
the reign of Octavian, the Roman Republic was transformed into an empire. In the
new order, leaders in various parts of the Empire often had to scramble to hold
onto their power.
Pilate was no exception. He had received the governorship
because of the patronage of a powerful senator in Rome, Lucius Aelius Sejanus,
who held the favored position as consul to the Emperor Tiberius, Octavian's successor.
Sejanus was well known for his hatred of the troublesome Jews. In fact, in A.D.
19 Sejanus persuaded Tiberius to expel all Jews from Rome.
Like his patron,
Pilate displayed an open disdain for the people of Palestine. To build an aqueduct
for Jerusalem, he stole money from the temple treasury, which caused a riot in
Jerusalem. Soldiers disguised in plain clothes infiltrated the crowd and slaughtered
hundreds of people.
In another incident, he set up the soldiers' standards
outside the temple. These symbolic poles usually depicted the bust of the emperor,
and the soldiers burned incense to them during military campaigns. The Jews therefore
considered them graven images.
Putting them near the temple led to a Roman
confrontation with a Jewish mob in the amphitheater in Caesarea. On this occasion,
Pilate backed down and ordered the standards removed.
Pilate also issued
coins for the region that were stamped with the littus and the simpulum -- the
stick and the ladle used in pagan offerings. There is no record of the response
of Jewish leaders, but it's not hard to imagine.
Finally, just before Pilate
appeared on the steps of his palace for Jesus' trial, something happened that
put his political future on the line. In A.D. 31, Pilate's patron, Sejanus, had
been exposed as a liar. The accusations that had led to the Jewish expulsion turned
out to have no basis in fact. On October 18, Tiberius had him executed. Then he
ordered hostilities against the Jews to cease and dismissed many of Sejanus's
appointees. Pilate must have wondered if he would be next.
At the time of
Jesus' trial, Pilate's grasp on power depended entirely on proving that he had
transferred his loyalty from his former patron to Tiberius. His actions during
the trial revealed that he was determined to stay in power.
anti-Semite, clearly enjoyed goading the priests and Pharisees, and he relished
this opportunity to embarrass the Jewish leaders. When they protested the wording
of the inscription he placed above Jesus' cross, Pilate coolly responded, "What
I have written, I have written" (John 19:22).
Pilate, the judge, recognized
the jealousy behind the spurious charges the Jews had brought against Jesus. As
the administrator of Roman justice, he found Jesus not guilty, for "he knew it
was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him" (Matthew 27:18).
what about Pilate, the politician? With sinking hearts, we see that his insight
into the motives of Jesus' enemies and his finding that Jesus was innocent were
not enough to determine his course. His ultimate concern had nothing to do with
governing justly and everything to do with using his position to stay in power.
this last statement make you wonder about Pilate's most famous question during
the trial proceedings?
We read about it in John 18. Jesus has just told
Pilate that He has, indeed, been born to be king and that one purpose of kingship
is to testify to the truth.
"Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,"
Many essays and sermons
have been written on those three words: What is truth? Was Pilate wistful? Sincerely
seeking? Sardonic? Defensive? Or was it merely an off-handed remark?
very next sentence begins: "With this [Pilate] went out again to the Jews ...
" (John 18:38). Pilate didn't even wait for an answer. He immediately turned and
walked away. His question was meaningless -- the empty rhetoric of politics --
and he was already sure of the answer: Truth was what served his political purposes
at the time.
John's Gospel records the turning point in the proceedings
against Jesus. Pilate has decided that Jesus should go free. Then someone in the
crowd shouts, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar" (John 19:12).
"Friend of Caesar" was one of the formal titles for a Roman governor. Whoever
shouted this knew that Pilate was standing on a slippery political slope. When
Pilate heard it, he abandoned his defense of Jesus.
The stage was set for
an unthinkable act: The official who was charged with upholding the truth handed
over a man he knew was innocent to a murderous mob.
And Jesus went willingly.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth ...
By oppression and judgment, he was taken away …
For he was cut off from
the land of the living;
For the transgression of my people he was stricken
(Isaiah 53: 7-8).
Pilate was removed from office in A.D. 37 for excessive
cruelty to the Jews. It is thought that he committed suicide on his final journey
to Rome. According to tradition, his wife became a believer; she later came to
be revered as a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church.
And what about the man
condemned that day? The one who had no legal counsel and stood alone before His
enemies stands today in the Father's presence as our eternal Advocate? "We have
one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One,"
wrote John, many years after Jesus' trial (1 John 2:1).
Not only that, but
Jesus, as He promised, has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Comforter
here on earth. Parakletos, the word Jesus used to describe the Spirit, means "to
be called alongside." The Spirit is called alongside us, exactly like legal counsel
in a court case. "The Spirit himself intercedes for us," Paul wrote (Romans 8:26).
Jesus stood alone to face His accusers, we never have to. When the powers of this
world, seen and unseen, condemn us, Jesus is always standing alongside -- not
to protest our innocence, but to offer Himself as the one who has already stood
trial for our sins.
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Passion - Prophecy Fulfilled
Taken from A Violent Grace
by Michael Card. © Michael Card. Used by permission
of Multnomah Publishers.
With nineteen albums and eight books to his credit, singer/songwriter
and author Michael Card holds a master's in biblical studies and is pursuing
his doctorate in classical literature. He also hosts a weekly radio show
called Joy in the Journey. He, his wife Susan, and their four children
live in Franklin, Tennessee. More at www.michaelcard.com
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