The Civil Trials

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 8 of 9 of the series The Lord's Passion

There followed The Civil Trials—also in three parts.

(1) Before Pilate. The Sanhedrin brought Jesus to Pilate, and accused Him of saying that "he himself is Christ a King", Luke 23. 2, in opposi­tion to Caesar; they did not yet claim that He said He was the Son of God. Thus they accused Him of a political charge. Pilate, examining Jesus, came to the conclusion that He had refused to answer the chief priests' charge of making Himself a King, and concluded that their accusation arose merely from envy. Pilate questioned Jesus about making Himself the King of the Jews, to which Jesus replied, "Thou sayest", suggesting that He had not dealt with this question. As a result, Pilate said that he could find no fault in Jesus as to His claim to be a King. But the chief priests and the multitude were insistent that Jesus had stirred up the people in Judaea and Galilee. The mention of Galilee suggested to Pilate that he should send Jesus to Herod, who was the tetrarch, the sovereign, over Galilee, Luke 3. 1.

(2) Before Herod, Luke 23. 7. Herod had long wished to meet Jesus, and particularly to see a miracle per­formed by Him. The tetrarch had not forgiven John the Baptist for his outspoken reproof of his wife Herodias, whom Herod had married in spite of John's criticism. Herod had been responsible for the death of John the Baptist, and was of the opinion, from what he had heard of Jesus and His works, that He was possibly the re-incarnation of John the Baptist, Matt. 14. 1-10. The tetrarch, out of gross curiosity, thought Jesus might amuse him by doing a miracle. Herod put many questions to Jesus, but He answered nothing, despite the vehement accusations of the chief priests and scribes. Herod was annoyed with Jesus' refusal to work a miracle, so he and his soldiers in­sulted and mocked the lonely Sufferer by sending Him, dressed in gorgeous apparel, back again to Pilate in the Praetorium, Luke 23. 11.

(3) Before Pilate, Luke 23. 13. Pilate gathered the chief priests and the rulers before him, and went over the ground already covered before he had sent Jesus to Herod, especially concerning the chief priests' accu­sation that Jesus said He was a King. Pilate again put the question directly to Jesus, "Art thou the King of the Jews?", John 18. 33-34. Though the priests accused Jesus repeatedly, He gave no direct reply, except to say, "Thou sayest", and asked Pilate if it was something that the chief priests had concocted. Pilate, disclaiming that he was a Jew, asked Jesus, "What hast thou done?" He then put a general question to Jesus, "Art thou a king then?", to which He replied that His kingdom was not of this world, else would His servants defend Him, John 18. 36. Pilate summed up the position of the chief priests' accu­sation. They had brought Jesus to him for judgment as One who had perverted the people, who forbade them to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He was Messiah, a King. Herod had not found anything worthy of death when he had tried Jesus, Luke 23.15. Pilate expressed as his judg­ment that he should chastise Jesus, and release Him, v. 16. The Passover was a feast at which the governor usually released a prisoner to the people. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but he must give the people their preference. To his dismay they said, Release Barabbas (who was a robber and a murderer), and crucify Jesus. That was their choice, and Pilate consented to it. But what a choice ! They would prefer a murderer, the worst of his class, and demanded the death sentence instead for Jesus, in whom the Roman governor could find nothing worthy of death. Pilate was swayed by the people. He thought that scourging might be a sufficient chastisement for Jesus, and might satisfy the mob. But even after Jesus was scourged, the people still demand­ed crucifixion.

After Pilate had scourged Jesus, and before He was delivered to be crucified, the Roman soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium, and the whole band of them treated the in­nocent Victim in a most shameful manner. The soldiers had heard the accusation of the chief priests, and the question that Pilate had put to Jesus, "Art thou the King of the Jews"?, They said to themselves, "Let us treat Him as a king who has dared to set Himself up in opposition to our Caesar". They treated Him in a most inhuman manner, brutally, and without com­passion for what He had already suff­ered. The silent, unresisting, Holy Sufferer submitted Himself to vile treatment. They said, "He claimed to be a King; let us show Him what we do to impostors". They tore His clothes from off His bleeding back, and put a purple, or scarlet, cast-off officer's tunic on Him, to imitate a royal adornment. In mockery, they plaited a crown of thorns, and forced it down upon His head.

Their mock royalty was incomplete without a sceptre, and for this they thrust a reed into His right hand. To complete the mockery, they bowed their knees before Him, and said, "Hail, King of the Jews", took the mock sceptre from His hand, and smote Him on the head, after spitting on Him and smiting Him with their hands. Pilate then brought Jesus thus arrayed outside the Praetorium, to present Him to the chief priests and the people, saying, "Behold the man !", as though to demonstrate before them the maltreatment to which the Roman soldiers had submitted Him. Pilate brought Him out to display Him to the people because, though he found no fault in Him, he thought that this might content the mob's demand for punishment, John 19. 4-5. What inhumanity to the noblest Man this world has ever seen!

But instead of appeasing them, the sight only infuriated them the more, and the words "Crucify him, crucify him", rent the skies. To this demand Pilate replied by telling them to crucify Him themselves, for he had found no crime in Him for which he could pass the death sentence. The Jews then changed their charge from that of a breach of the Roman law, to one from their own law, that He had claimed to be the Son of God, John 19. 7. This puzzled Pilate so much the more that he demanded an answer from Jesus as to His origin. When Jesus gave him no reply, Pilate sought to bully Him, and to impress Him with his superior authority. But Jesus told the governor that he had no authority, save from God. Again Pilate sought to release Jesus, with the result that the Jewish mob warned Pilate that he would be disloyal to Caesar, if he persisted in showing mercy to Jesus. Rather than submit to the threat of being reported to the emperor, the governor delivered Jesus to be cruc­ified, and Her bearing His cross, was taken in shame outside the city wall to a place called Calvary.