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 result.
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 an outbreak.
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.”
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 Jews?”
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
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
plans, and 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,
“Have thou nothing to do with that just Man: for I have suffered
many things this day in a dream because of Him.”
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 called Christ?”
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 His condemnation.
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
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 to 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
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 be.
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 minds
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
“Speakest Thou not unto me? knowest Thou not that I have power
to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?”
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.
“Whosoever maketh 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 guilt.
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
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 know
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.
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