In Pilate's Judgment Hall
IN the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman
governor, Christ stands bound as a prisoner. About Him are the guard of soldiers, and the
hall is fast filling with spectators. Just outside the entrance are the judges of the
Sanhedrin, priests, rulers, elders, and the mob.
After condemning Jesus, the
council of the Sanhedrin had come to Pilate to have the sentence confirmed and executed.
But these Jewish officials would not enter the Roman judgment hall. According to their
ceremonial law they would be defiled thereby, and thus prevented from taking part in the
feast of the Passover. In their blindness they did not see that murderous hatred had
defiled their hearts. They did not see that Christ was the real Passover lamb, and that,
since they had rejected Him, the great feast had for them lost its significance.
When the Saviour was brought
into the judgment hall, Pilate looked upon Him with no friendly eyes. The Roman governor
had been called from his bedchamber in haste, and he determined to do his work as quickly
as possible. He was prepared to deal with the prisoner with
magisterial severity. Assuming
his severest expression, he turned to see what kind of man he had to examine, that he had
been called from his repose at so early an hour. He knew that it must be someone whom the
Jewish authorities were anxious to have tried and punished with haste.
Pilate looked at the men who
had Jesus in charge, and then his gaze rested searchingly on Jesus. He had had to deal
with all kinds of criminals; but never before had a man bearing marks of such goodness and
nobility been brought before him. On His face he saw no sign of guilt, no expression of
fear, no boldness or defiance. He saw a man of calm and dignified bearing, whose
countenance bore not the marks of a criminal, but the signature of heaven.
Christ's appearance made a
favorable impression upon Pilate. His better nature was roused. He had heard of Jesus and
His works. His wife had told him something of the wonderful deeds performed by the
Galilean prophet, who cured the sick and raised the dead. Now this revived as a dream in
Pilate's mind. He recalled rumors that he had heard from several sources. He resolved to
demand of the Jews their charges against the prisoner.
Who is this Man, and
wherefore have ye brought Him? he said. What accusation bring ye against Him? The Jews
were disconcerted. Knowing that they could not substantiate their charges against Christ,
they did not desire a public examination. They answered that He was a deceiver called
Jesus of Nazareth.
Again Pilate asked,
"What accusation bring ye against this Man?" The priests did not answer his
question, but in words that showed their irritation, they said, "If He were not a
malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up unto thee." When those composing the
Sanhedrin, the first men of the nation, bring to you a man they deem worthy of death, is
there need to ask for an accusation against him? They hoped to impress Pilate with a sense
of their importance, and thus lead him to accede to their request without going through
many preliminaries. They were eager to have their sentence ratified; for they knew that
the people who had witnessed Christ's marvelous works could tell a story very different
from the fabrication they themselves were now rehearsing.
The priests thought that with
the weak and vacillating Pilate they could carry through their plans without trouble.
Before this he had signed the death warrant hastily, condemning to death men they knew
were not worthy of death. In his estimation the life of a prisoner was
of little account;
whether he were innocent or guilty was of no special consequence. The priests hoped that
Pilate would now inflict the death penalty on Jesus without giving Him a hearing. This
they besought as a favor on the occasion of their great national festival.
But there was something in
the prisoner that held Pilate back from this. He dared not do it. He read the purposes of
the priests. He remembered how, not long before, Jesus had raised Lazarus, a man that had
been dead four days; and he determined to know, before signing the sentence of
condemnation, what were the charges against Him, and whether they could be proved.
If your judgment is
sufficient, he said, why bring the prisoner to me? "Take ye Him, and judge Him
according to your law." Thus pressed, the priests said that they had already passed
sentence upon Him, but that they must have Pilate's sentence to render their condemnation
valid. What is your sentence? Pilate asked. The death sentence, they answered; but it is
not lawful for us to put any man to death. They asked Pilate to take their word as to
Christ's guilt, and enforce their sentence. They would take the responsibility of the
Pilate was not a just or a
conscientious judge; but weak though he was in moral power, he refused to grant this
request. He would not condemn Jesus until a charge had been brought against Him.
The priests were in a
dilemma. They saw that they must cloak their hypocrisy under the thickest concealment.
They must not allow it to appear that Christ had been arrested on religious grounds. Were
this put forward as a reason, their proceedings would have no weight with Pilate. They
must make it appear that Jesus was working against the common law; then He could be
punished as a political offender. Tumults and insurrection against the Roman government
were constantly arising among the Jews. With these revolts the Romans had dealt very
rigorously, and they were constantly on the watch to repress everything that could lead to
Only a few days before this
the Pharisees had tried to entrap Christ with the question, "Is it lawful for us to
give tribute unto Caesar?" But Christ had unveiled their hypocrisy. The Romans who
were present had seen the utter failure of the plotters, and their discomfiture at His
answer, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's." Luke
Now the priests thought to
make it appear that on this occasion Christ
had taught what they hoped He would teach. In
their extremity they called false witnesses to their aid, "and they began to accuse
Him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to
Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King." Three charges, each without
foundation. The priests knew this, but they were willing to commit perjury could they but
secure their end.
Pilate saw through their
purpose. He did not believe that the prisoner had plotted against the government. His meek
and humble appearance was altogether out of harmony with the charge. Pilate was convinced
that a deep plot had been laid to destroy an innocent man who stood in the way of the
Jewish dignitaries. Turning to Jesus he asked, "Art Thou the King of the Jews?"
The Saviour answered, "Thou sayest it." And as He spoke, His countenance lighted
up as if a sunbeam were shining upon it.
When they heard His answer,
Caiaphas and those that were with him called Pilate to witness that Jesus had admitted the
crime with which He was charged. With noisy cries, priests, scribes, and rulers demanded
that He be sentenced to death. The cries were taken up by the mob, and the uproar was
deafening. Pilate was confused. Seeing that Jesus made no answer to His accusers, Pilate
said to Him, "Answerest Thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against
Thee. But Jesus yet answered nothing."
Standing behind Pilate, in
view of all in the court, Christ heard the abuse; but to all the false charges against Him
He answered not a word. His whole bearing gave evidence of conscious innocence. He stood
unmoved by the fury of the waves that beat about Him. It was as if the heavy surges of
wrath, rising higher and higher, like the waves of the boisterous ocean, broke about Him,
but did not touch Him. He stood silent, but His silence was eloquence. It was as a light
shining from the inner to the outer man.
Pilate was astonished at His
bearing. Does this Man disregard the proceedings because He does not care to save His
life? he asked himself. As he looked at Jesus, bearing insult and mockery without
retaliation, he felt that He could not be as unrighteous and unjust as were the clamoring
priests. Hoping to gain the truth from Him and to escape the tumult of the crowd, Pilate
took Jesus aside with him, and again questioned, "Art Thou the King of the
Jesus did not directly answer
this question. He knew that the Holy
Spirit was striving with Pilate, and He gave him
opportunity to acknowledge his conviction. "Sayest thou this thing of thyself,"
He asked, "or did others tell it thee of Me?" That is, was it the accusations of
the priests, or a desire to receive light from Christ, that prompted Pilate's question?
Pilate understood Christ's meaning; but pride arose in his heart. He would not acknowledge
the conviction that pressed upon him. "Am I a Jew?" he said. "Thine own
nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me: what hast Thou done?"
Pilate's golden opportunity
had passed. Yet Jesus did not leave him without further light. While He did not directly
answer Pilate's question, He plainly stated His own mission. He gave Pilate to understand
that He was not seeking an earthly throne.
"My kingdom is not of
this world," He said; "if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants
fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence.
Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I
am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should
bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice."
Christ affirmed that His word
was in itself a key which would unlock the mystery to those who were prepared to receive
it. It had a self-commending power, and this was the secret of the spread of His kingdom
of truth. He desired Pilate to understand that only by receiving and appropriating truth
could his ruined nature be reconstructed.
Pilate had a desire to know
the truth. His mind was confused. He eagerly grasped the words of the Saviour, and his
heart was stirred with a great longing to know what it really was, and how he could obtain
it. "What is truth?" he inquired. But he did not wait for an answer. The tumult
outside recalled him to the interests of the hour; for the priests were clamorous for
immediate action. Going out to the Jews, he declared emphatically, "I find in Him no
fault at all."
These words from a heathen
judge were a scathing rebuke to the perfidy and falsehood of the rulers of Israel who were
accusing the Saviour. As the priests and elders heard this from Pilate, their
disappointment and rage knew no bounds. They had long plotted and waited for this
opportunity. As they saw the prospect of the release of Jesus, they seemed ready to tear
Him in pieces. They loudly denounced Pilate, and threatened him with the censure of the
Roman government. They
accused him of refusing to condemn Jesus, who, they affirmed, had
set Himself up against Caesar.
Angry voices were now heard,
declaring that the seditious influence of Jesus was well known throughout the country. The
priests said, "He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning
from Galilee to this place."
Pilate at this time had no
thought of condemning Jesus. He knew that the Jews had accused Him through hatred and
prejudice. He knew what his duty was. Justice demanded that Christ should be immediately
released. But Pilate dreaded the ill will of the people. Should he refuse to give Jesus
into their hands, a tumult would be raised, and this he feared to meet. When he heard that
Christ was from Galilee, he decided to send Him to Herod, the ruler of that province, who
was then in Jerusalem. By this course, Pilate thought to shift the responsibility of the
trial from himself to Herod. He also thought this a good opportunity to heal an old
quarrel between himself and Herod. And so it proved. The two magistrates made friends over
the trial of the Saviour.
Pilate delivered Jesus again
to the soldiers, and amid the jeers and insults of the mob He was hurried to the judgment
hall of Herod. "When Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad." He had never
before met the Saviour, but "he was desirous to see Him of a long season, because he
had heard many things of Him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by Him."
This Herod was he whose hands were stained with the blood of John the Baptist. When Herod
first heard of Jesus, he was terror-stricken, and said, "It is John, whom I beheaded:
he is risen from the dead;" "therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in
him." Mark 6:16; Matt. 14:2. Yet Herod desired to see Jesus. Now there was
opportunity to save the life of this prophet, and the king hoped to banish forever from
his mind the memory of that bloody head brought to him in a charger. He also desired to
have his curiosity gratified, and thought that if Christ were given any prospect of
release, He would do anything that was asked of Him.
A large company of the
priests and elders had accompanied Christ to Herod. And when the Saviour was brought in,
these dignitaries, all speaking excitedly, urged their accusations against Him. But Herod
paid little regard to their charges. He commanded silence, desiring an opportunity to
question Christ. He ordered that the fetters of Christ should be unloosed, at the same
time charging His enemies with roughly treating Him. Looking with compassion into the
serene face of the world's Redeemer, he read in it only wisdom and purity. He as well as
Pilate was satisfied that Christ had been accused through malice and envy.
Herod questioned Christ in
many words, but throughout the Saviour maintained a profound silence. At the command of
the king, the decrepit and maimed were then called in, and Christ was ordered to prove His
claims by working a miracle. Men say that Thou canst heal the sick, said Herod. I am
anxious to see that Thy widespread fame has not been belied. Jesus did not respond, and
Herod still continued to urge: If Thou canst work miracles for others, work them now for
Thine own good, and it will serve Thee a good purpose. Again he commanded, Show us a sign
that Thou hast the power with which rumor hath accredited Thee. But Christ was as one who
heard and saw not. The Son of God had taken upon Himself man's nature. He must do as man
must do in like circumstances. Therefore He would not work a miracle to save Himself the
pain and humiliation that man must endure when placed in a similar position.
Herod promised that if Christ
would perform some miracle in his presence, He should be released. Christ's accusers had
seen with their own eyes the mighty works wrought by His power. They had heard Him command
the grave to give up its dead. They had seen the dead come forth obedient to His voice.
Fear seized them lest He should now work a miracle. Of all things they most dreaded an
exhibition of His power. Such a manifestation would prove a deathblow to their
would perhaps cost them their lives. Again the priests and rulers, in great anxiety, urged
their accusations against Him. Raising their voices, they declared, He is a traitor, a
blasphemer. He works His miracles through the power given Him by Beelzebub, the prince of
the devils. The hall became a scene of confusion, some crying one thing and some another.
Herod's conscience was now
far less sensitive than when he had trembled with horror at the request of Herodias for
the head of John the Baptist. For a time he had felt the keen stings of remorse for his
terrible act; but his moral perceptions had become more and more degraded by his
licentious life. Now his heart had become so hardened that he could even boast of the
punishment he had inflicted upon John for daring to reprove him. And he now threatened
Jesus, declaring repeatedly that he had power to release or to condemn Him. But no sign
from Jesus gave evidence that He heard a word.
Herod was irritated by this
silence. It seemed to indicate utter indifference to his authority. To the vain and
pompous king, open rebuke would have been less offensive than to be thus ignored. Again he
angrily threatened Jesus, who still remained unmoved and silent.
The mission of Christ in this
world was not to gratify idle curiosity. He came to heal the brokenhearted. Could He have
spoken any word to heal the bruises of sin-sick souls, He would not have kept silent. But
He had no words for those who would but trample the truth under their unholy feet.
Christ might have spoken
words to Herod that would have pierced the ears of the hardened king. He might have
stricken him with fear and trembling by laying before him the full iniquity of his life,
and the horror of his approaching doom. But Christ's silence was the severest rebuke that
He could have given. Herod had rejected the truth spoken to him by the greatest of the
prophets, and no other message was he to receive. Not a word had the Majesty of heaven for
him. That ear that had ever been open to human woe, had no room for Herod's commands.
Those eyes that had ever rested upon the penitent sinner in pitying, forgiving love had no
look to bestow upon Herod. Those lips that had uttered the most impressive truth, that in
tones of tenderest entreaty had pleaded with the most sinful and the most degraded, were
closed to the haughty king who felt no need of a Saviour.
Herod's face grew dark with
passion. Turning to the multitude, he
angrily denounced Jesus as an impostor. Then to
Christ he said, If You will give no evidence of Your claim, I will deliver You up to the
soldiers and the people. They may succeed in making You speak. If You are an impostor,
death at their hands is only what You merit; if You are the Son of God, save Yourself by
working a miracle.
No sooner were these words
spoken than a rush was made for Christ. Like wild beasts, the crowd darted upon their
prey. Jesus was dragged this way and that, Herod joining the mob in seeking to humiliate
the Son of God. Had not the Roman soldiers interposed, and forced back the maddened
throng, the Saviour would have been torn in pieces.
"Herod with his men of
war set Him at nought, and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe." The Roman
soldiers joined in this abuse. All that these wicked, corrupt soldiers, helped on by Herod
and the Jewish dignitaries, could instigate was heaped upon the Saviour. Yet His divine
patience failed not.
Christ's persecutors had
tried to measure His character by their own; they had represented Him as vile as
themselves. But back of all the present appearance another scene intruded itself,--a scene
which they will one day see in all its glory. There were some who trembled in Christ's
presence. While the rude throng were bowing in mockery before Him, some who came forward
for that purpose turned back, afraid and silenced. Herod was convicted. The last rays of
merciful light were shining upon his sin-hardened heart. He felt that this was no common
man; for divinity had flashed through humanity. At the very time when Christ was
encompassed by mockers, adulterers, and murderers, Herod felt that he was beholding a God
upon His throne.
Hardened as he was, Herod
dared not ratify the condemnation of Christ. He wished to relieve himself of the terrible
responsibility, and he sent Jesus back to the Roman judgment hall.
Pilate was disappointed and
much displeased. When the Jews returned with their prisoner, he asked impatiently what
they would have him do. He reminded them that he had already examined Jesus, and found no
fault in Him; he told them that they had brought complaints against Him, but they had not
been able to prove a single charge. He had sent Jesus to Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee,
and one of their own nation, but he also had found in Him nothing worthy of death. "I
will therefore chastise Him," Pilate said, "and release Him."
Here Pilate showed his
weakness. He had declared that Jesus was
innocent, yet he was willing for Him to be
scourged to pacify His accusers. He would sacrifice justice and principle in order to
compromise with the mob. This placed him at a disadvantage. The crowd presumed upon his
indecision, and clamored the more for the life of the prisoner. If at the first Pilate had
stood firm, refusing to condemn a man whom he found guiltless, he would have broken the
fatal chain that was to bind him in remorse and guilt as long as he lived. Had he carried
out his convictions of right, the Jews would not have presumed to dictate to him. Christ
would have been put to death, but the guilt would not have rested upon Pilate. But Pilate
had taken step after step in the violation of his conscience. He had excused himself from
judging with justice and equity, and he now found himself almost helpless in the hands of
the priests and rulers. His wavering and indecision proved his ruin.
Even now Pilate was not left
to act blindly. A message from God warned him from the deed he was about to commit. In
answer to Christ's prayer, the wife of Pilate had been visited by an angel from heaven,
and in a dream she had beheld the Saviour and conversed with Him. Pilate's wife was not a
Jew, but as she looked upon Jesus in her dream, she had no doubt of His character or
mission. She knew Him to be the Prince of God. She saw Him on trial in the judgment hall.
She saw the hands tightly bound as the hands of a criminal. She saw Herod and his soldiers
doing their dreadful work. She heard the priests and rulers, filled with envy and malice,
madly accusing. She heard the words, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to
die." She saw Pilate give Jesus to the scourging, after he had declared, "I find
no fault in Him." She heard the condemnation pronounced by Pilate, and saw him give
Christ up to His murderers. She saw the cross uplifted on Calvary. She saw the earth
wrapped in darkness, and heard the mysterious cry, "It is finished." Still
another scene met her gaze. She saw Christ seated upon the great white cloud, while the
earth reeled in space, and His murderers fled from the presence of His glory. With a cry
of horror she awoke, and at once wrote to Pilate words of warning.
While Pilate was hesitating
as to what he should do, a messenger pressed through the crowd, and handed him the letter
from his wife, which read:
"Have thou nothing to do
with that just Man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of
Pilate's face grew pale. He
was confused by his own conflicting emotions. But while he had been delaying to act, the
priests and rulers were still further inflaming the minds of the people. Pilate was forced
to action. He now bethought himself of a custom which might serve to secure Christ's
release. It was customary at this feast to release some one prisoner whom the people might
choose. This custom was of pagan invention; there was not a shadow of justice in it, but
it was greatly prized by the Jews. The Roman authorities at this time held a prisoner
named Barabbas, who was under sentence of death. This man had claimed to be the Messiah.
He claimed authority to establish a different order of things, to set the world right.
Under satanic delusion he claimed that whatever he could obtain by theft and robbery was
his own. He had done wonderful things through satanic agencies, he had gained a following
among the people, and had excited sedition against the Roman government. Under cover of
religious enthusiasm he was a hardened and desperate villain, bent on rebellion and
cruelty. By giving the people a choice between this man and the innocent Saviour, Pilate
thought to arouse them to a sense of justice. He hoped to gain their sympathy for Jesus in
opposition to the priests and rulers. So, turning to the crowd, he said with great
earnestness, "Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is
Like the bellowing of wild
beasts came the answer of the mob, "Release unto us Barabbas!" Louder and louder
swelled the cry, Barabbas! Barabbas! Thinking that the people had not understood his
question, Pilate asked, "Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?"
But they cried out again, "Away with this Man, and release unto us Barabbas"!
"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" Pilate asked. Again
the surging multitude roared like demons. Demons themselves, in human form, were in the
crowd, and what could be expected but the answer, "Let Him be crucified"?
Pilate was troubled. He had
not thought it would come to that. He shrank from delivering an innocent man to the most
ignominious and cruel death that could be inflicted. After the roar of voices had ceased,
he turned to the people, saying, "Why, what evil hath He done?" But the case had
gone too far for argument. It was not evidence of Christ's innocence that they wanted, but
Still Pilate endeavored to
save Him. "He said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath He done? I have
found no cause of death
in Him: I will therefore chastise Him, and let Him go." But
the very mention of His release stirred the people to a tenfold frenzy. "Crucify Him,
crucify Him," they cried. Louder and louder swelled the storm that Pilate's
indecision had called forth.
Jesus was taken, faint with
weariness and covered with wounds, and scourged in the sight of the multitude. "And
the soldiers led Him away into the hall, called Praetorium, and they call together the
whole band. And they clothed Him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it
about His head, and began to salute Him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they . . . did spit
upon Him, and bowing their knees worshiped Him." Occasionally some wicked hand
snatched the reed that had been placed in His hand, and struck the crown upon His brow,
forcing the thorns into His temples, and sending the blood trickling down His face and
Wonder, O heavens! and be
astonished, O earth! Behold the oppressor and the oppressed. A maddened throng enclose the
Saviour of the world. Mocking and jeering are mingled with the coarse oaths of blasphemy.
His lowly birth and humble life are commented upon by the unfeeling mob. His claim to be
the Son of God is ridiculed, and the vulgar jest and insulting sneer are passed from lip
Satan led the cruel mob in
its abuse of the Saviour. It was his purpose to provoke Him to retaliation if possible, or
to drive Him to perform a miracle to release Himself, and thus break up the plan of
salvation. One stain upon His human life, one failure of His humanity to endure the
terrible test, and the Lamb of God would have been an imperfect offering, and the
redemption of man a failure. But He who by a command could bring the heavenly host to His
aid--He who could have driven that mob in terror from His sight by the flashing forth of
His divine majesty--submitted with perfect calmness to the coarsest insult and outrage.
Christ's enemies had demanded
a miracle as evidence of His divinity. They had evidence far greater than any they had
sought. As their cruelty degraded His torturers below humanity into the likeness of Satan,
so did His meekness and patience exalt Jesus above humanity, and prove His kinship to God.
His abasement was the pledge of His exaltation. The blood drops of agony that from His
wounded temples flowed down His face and beard were the pledge of His anointing with
"the oil of gladness" (Heb. 1:9.) as our great high priest.
Satan's rage was great as he
saw that all the abuse inflicted upon the Saviour had not forced the least murmur from His
lips. Although He had taken upon Him the nature of man, He was sustained by a godlike
fortitude, and departed in no particular from the will of His Father.
When Pilate gave Jesus up to
be scourged and mocked, he thought to excite the pity of the multitude. He hoped they
would decide that this was sufficient punishment. Even the malice of the priests, he
thought, would now be satisfied. But with keen perception the Jews saw the weakness of
thus punishing a man who had been declared innocent. They knew that Pilate was trying to
save the life of the prisoner, and they were determined that Jesus should not be released.
To please and satisfy us, Pilate has scourged Him, they thought, and if we press the
matter to a decided issue, we shall surely gain our end.
Pilate now sent for Barabbas
to be brought into the court. He then presented the two prisoners side by side, and
pointing to the Saviour he said in a voice of solemn entreaty, "Behold the Man!"
"I bring Him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in Him."
There stood the Son of God,
wearing the robe of mockery and the crown of thorns. Stripped to the waist, His back
showed the long, cruel stripes, from which the blood flowed freely. His face was stained
with blood, and bore the marks of exhaustion and pain; but never had it appeared more
beautiful than now. The Saviour's visage was not marred before His enemies. Every feature
expressed gentleness and resignation and the tenderest pity for His cruel foes. In His
manner there was no cowardly weakness, but the strength and dignity of long-suffering. In
striking contrast was the prisoner at His side. Every line of the countenance of Barabbas
proclaimed him the hardened ruffian that he was. The contrast spoke to every beholder.
Some of the spectators were weeping. As they looked upon Jesus, their hearts were full of
sympathy. Even the priests and rulers were convicted that He was all that He claimed to
The Roman soldiers that
surrounded Christ were not all hardened; some were looking earnestly into His face for one
evidence that He was a criminal or dangerous character. From time to time they would turn
and cast a look of contempt upon Barabbas. It needed no deep insight to read him through
and through. Again they would turn to the One upon trial. They looked at the divine
sufferer with feelings of deep pity. The silent submission of Christ stamped upon their
the scene, never to be effaced until they either acknowledged Him as the Christ, or
by rejecting Him decided their own destiny.
Pilate was filled with
amazement at the uncomplaining patience of the Saviour. He did not doubt that the sight of
this Man, in contrast with Barabbas, would move the Jews to sympathy. But he did not
understand the fanatical hatred of the priests for Him, who, as the Light of the world,
had made manifest their darkness and error. They had moved the mob to a mad fury, and
again priests, rulers, and people raised that awful cry, "Crucify Him, crucify
Him." At last, losing all patience with their unreasoning cruelty, Pilate cried out
despairingly, "Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him."
The Roman governor, though
familiar with cruel scenes, was moved with sympathy for the suffering prisoner, who,
condemned and scourged, with bleeding brow and lacerated back, still had the bearing of a
king upon his throne. But the priests declared, "We have a law, and by our law He
ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God."
Pilate was startled. He had
no correct idea of Christ and His mission; but he had an indistinct faith in God and in
beings superior to humanity. A thought that had once before passed through his mind now
took more definite shape. He questioned whether it might not be a divine being that stood
before him, clad in the purple robe of mockery, and crowned with thorns.
Again he went into the
judgment hall, and said to Jesus, "Whence art Thou?" But Jesus gave him no
answer. The Saviour had spoken freely to Pilate, explaining His own mission as a witness
to the truth. Pilate had disregarded the light. He had abused the high office of judge by
yielding his principles and authority to the demands of the mob. Jesus had no further
light for him. Vexed at His silence, Pilate said haughtily:
"Speakest Thou not unto
me? knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release
Jesus answered, "Thou
couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore
he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin."
Thus the pitying Saviour, in
the midst of His intense suffering and grief, excused as far as possible the act of the
Roman governor who gave Him up to be crucified. What a scene was this to hand down to the
world for all time! What a light it sheds upon the character of Him who is the Judge of
all the earth!
"He that delivered Me
unto thee," said Jesus, "hath the greater sin." By this Christ meant
Caiaphas, who, as high priest, represented the Jewish nation. They knew the principles
that controlled the Roman authorities. They had had light in the prophecies that testified
of Christ, and in His own teachings and miracles. The Jewish judges had received
unmistakable evidence of the divinity of Him whom they condemned to death. And according
to their light would they be judged.
The greatest guilt and
heaviest responsibility belonged to those who stood in the highest places in the nation,
the depositaries of sacred trusts that they were basely betraying. Pilate, Herod, and the
Roman soldiers were comparatively ignorant of Jesus. They thought to please the priests
and rulers by abusing Him. They had not the light which the Jewish nation had so
abundantly received. Had the light been given to the soldiers, they would not have treated
Christ as cruelly as they did.
Again Pilate proposed to
release the Saviour. "But the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou
art not Caesar's friend." Thus these hypocrites pretended to be jealous for the
authority of Caesar. Of all the opponents of the Roman rule, the Jews were most bitter.
When it was safe for them to do so, they were most tyrannical in enforcing their own
national and religious requirements; but when they desired to bring about some purpose of
cruelty, they exalted the power of Caesar. To accomplish the destruction of Christ, they
would profess loyalty to the foreign rule which they hated.
himself a king," they continued, "speaketh against Caesar." This was
touching Pilate in a weak point. He was under suspicion by the Roman government, and he
knew that such a report would be ruin to him. He knew that if the Jews were thwarted,
their rage would be turned against him. They would leave nothing undone to accomplish
their revenge. He had before him an example of the persistence with which they sought the
life of One whom they hated without reason.
Pilate then took his place on
the judgment seat, and again presented Jesus to the people, saying, "Behold your
King!" Again the mad cry was heard, "Away with Him, crucify Him." In a
voice that was heard far and near, Pilate asked, "Shall I crucify your King?"
But from profane, blasphemous lips went forth the words, "We have no king but
Thus by choosing a heathen
ruler, the Jewish nation had withdrawn
from the theocracy. They had rejected God as their
king. Henceforth they had no deliverer. They had no king but Caesar. To this the priests
and teachers had led the people. For this, with the fearful results that followed, they
were responsible. A nation's sin and a nation's ruin were due to the religious leaders.
"When Pilate saw that he
could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his
hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just Person: see ye
to it." In fear and self-condemnation Pilate looked upon the Saviour. In the vast sea
of upturned faces, His alone was peaceful. About His head a soft light seemed to shine.
Pilate said in his heart, He is a God. Turning to the multitude he declared, I am clear of
His blood. Take ye Him, and crucify Him. But mark ye, priests and rulers, I pronounce Him
a just man. May He whom He claims as His Father judge you and not me for this day's work.
Then to Jesus he said, Forgive me for this act; I cannot save You. And when he had again
scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.
Pilate longed to deliver
Jesus. But he saw that he could not do this, and yet retain his own position and honor.
Rather than lose his worldly power, he chose to sacrifice an innocent life. How many, to
escape loss or suffering, in like manner sacrifice principle. Conscience and duty point
one way, and self-interest points another. The current sets strongly in the wrong
direction, and he who compromises with evil is swept away into the thick darkness of
Pilate yielded to the demands
of the mob. Rather than risk losing his position, he delivered Jesus up to be crucified.
But in spite of his precautions, the very thing he dreaded afterward came upon him. His
honors were stripped from him, he was cast down from his high office, and, stung by
remorse and wounded pride, not long after the crucifixion he ended his own life. So all
who compromise with sin will gain only sorrow and ruin. "There is a way which seemeth
right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Prov. 14:12.
When Pilate declared himself
innocent of the blood of Christ, Caiaphas answered defiantly, "His blood be on us,
and on our children." The awful words were taken up by the priests and rulers, and
echoed by the crowd in an inhuman roar of voices. The whole multitude answered and said,
"His blood be on us, and on our children."
The people of Israel had made
their choice. Pointing to Jesus they
had said, "Not this man, but Barabbas."
Barabbas, the robber and murderer, was the representative of Satan. Christ was the
representative of God. Christ had been rejected; Barabbas had been chosen. Barabbas they
were to have. In making this choice they accepted him who from the beginning was a liar
and a murderer. Satan was their leader. As a nation they would act out his dictation. His
works they would do. His rule they must endure. That people who chose Barabbas in the
place of Christ were to feel the cruelty of Barabbas as long as time should last.
Looking upon the smitten Lamb
of God, the Jews had cried, "His blood be on us, and on our children." That
awful cry ascended to the throne of God. That sentence, pronounced upon themselves, was
written in heaven. That prayer was heard. The blood of the Son of God was upon their
children and their children's children, a perpetual curse.
Terribly was it realized in
the destruction of Jerusalem. Terribly has it been manifested in the condition of the
Jewish nation for eighteen hundred years,--a branch severed from the vine, a dead,
fruitless branch, to be gathered up and burned. From land to land throughout the world,
from century to century, dead, dead in trespasses and sins!
Terribly will that prayer be
fulfilled in the great judgment day. When Christ shall come to the earth again, not as a
prisoner surrounded by a rabble will men see Him. They will see Him then as heaven's King.
Christ will come in His own glory, in the glory of His Father, and the glory of the holy
angels. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels, the
beautiful and triumphant sons of God, possessing surpassing loveliness and glory, will
escort Him on His way. Then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him
shall be gathered all nations. Then every eye shall see Him, and they also that pierced
Him. In the place of a crown of thorns, He will wear a crown of glory,--a crown within a
crown. In place of that old purple kingly robe, He will be clothed in raiment of whitest
white, "so as no fuller on earth can white them." Mark 9:3. And on His vesture
and on His thigh a name will be written, "King of kings, and Lord of lords."
Rev. 19:16. Those who mocked and smote Him will be there. The priests and rulers will
behold again the scene in the judgment hall. Every circumstance will appear before them,
as if written in letters of fire. Then those who prayed, "His blood be on us, and on
our children," will receive the answer to their prayer. Then the whole world will
and understand. They will realize who and what they, poor, feeble, finite beings,
have been warring against. In awful agony and horror they will cry to the mountains and
rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and
from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able
to stand?" Rev. 6:16, 17.