HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. –Matthew 27:1-2
Pilate the Last Roman to Manage Jews
By the Jewish law no sentence of death could be passed by night, and therefore when the morning dawned (Matthew 27:1), a second meeting of the priests and elders was convened. It was then that their formal sentence of death was passed on Jesus, and it was then that they deliberated how they should best present their case to Pilate, so as to ensure that Jesus would not escape. We know very little about Pilate, save from the Gospel story. He was a typical Roman, self-centred and self-seeking, not devoid of the Roman love of justice. But his love of self-outweighed his love of justice; and his shameful past had so eaten the heart out of him, that in the great crisis of his life he went to ruin. He was the last man in the world to manage Jews. He had outraged their feelings in the most wanton manner. We do not wonder to read in an old historian that Pilate fell into disgrace in after years, and, wearied with misfortunes, killed himself. Those who have read Scott’s story, Anne of Geierstein, will know the legend of Mount Pilatus–the mountain with the bare and jagged peaks, opposite the Rigi, at the west end of the Lake of Lucerne. The legend is that Pilate spent years of torturing remorse on that mountain, and at last drowned himself in the lake; and “a form,” says Scott, “is often seen to emerge from the water, and to go through the motions of one washing his hands.”
Accusation That Jesus Was Implicated in a Political Plot
Now the usual residence of the Roman procurator was not Jerusalem. Jerusalem was an intolerable city to the man who had revelled in the gay life of Rome. The usual residence was Caesarea, a mimic Rome down by the seashore. But whenever Jerusalem was thronged with strangers, as it was on the occasion of all the great feasts, it was the duty of the Roman governor to be there in person, to see that the peace was kept. So Pilate was in Jerusalem at the Passover, and he was living in the magnificent palace of the Herods when the hour came that flashed on him a light that was to make him visible to all the ages. In the early morning, Jesus was brought to Pilate, not into the palace (for to enter that would have been pollution to a Jew), but into the court, with its colonnade, in front of the palace. And the first question which Pilate asked showed how cunningly the charge against Jesus had been coloured. Pilate did not ask, “Art Thou the Messiah?”–what did he care for Jewish superstitions? But he did ask, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11). The question indicates how craftily the priests had gone to work. They had given a political and civil turn to the spiritual claims of Jesus, in order to play on the Roman governor’s heart. They had hinted that there was a rival to Tiberius, and Pilate would do well to silence him. Jesus did not deny the accusation. There was a glorious sense in which He was a King. And when the accusers began to heap charge on a charge, and Jesus neither retorted nor retaliated, I think that Pilate began to feel His kingliness. He marvelled greatly (Matthew 27:14). He had never met a Jew at all like this. There was something subduing in this silent Man. Pilate resolved to do all he safely could to get this strange, sad prisoner acquitted.
Pilate’s Wife Attempted Intervention
A powerful influence now appeared to back his efforts–it was the unlooked-for intervention of Pilate’s wife. Do you remember how she had heard of Jesus? Well, perhaps in the idle days of Caesarea the tale of His deeds had enlivened the dinner table. Or perhaps that morning, when Jesus was gone to Herod, Pilate had told his wife about the Man. And then, for it was still early, Pilate’s wife had fallen asleep again, and God had visited her in a dream. Did God reveal the glory of Christ to her, so that she became a disciple of the Lord? Every Christian in Russia believes that, and the Eastern Church has made a saint of her. At least, while she slept, God touched her conscience, and she saw the unutterable horror of the deed in hand. She awakened in terror–could something still be done? She despatched a messenger to warn her husband. She bade him have nothing to do with that just Man. And again Pilate resolved to do all in his power to get this haunting prisoner acquitted.
With the Hosannas of Palm Sunday Fresh in Mind, Pilate Tried an Appeal to the Populace
Now Pilate had formed the shrewd suspicion that jealousy was at the back of the indictment (Matthew 27:18). Who knew but that the prisoner might be a popular hero–had not the provincial crowds been crying Hosanna to Him? It flashed on Pilate (always thinking of self) that there was one way of releasing Jesus that might rebuild his own shattered popularity. It was a Roman custom at the Passover to liberate one prisoner chosen by the people. And it came as an inspiration to Pilate that if he summoned the people they might ask for Jesus. He summoned the people and laid two names before them–that of Jesus and the other of Barabbas. And we have a hint that Barabbas–which means “son of the father’– which had another name, and it was Jesus too! Now we never can tell how the mob would have chosen had they been left alone to make their choice, for the Pharisees were busy in the crowd; they whispered that Jesus was favoured by that odious Pilate. And they so played on these poor city-hearts, and so touched the chords of their cherished pride and hates, that there grew and gathered a hoarse shout, “Barabbas”; and Jesus–“Let Him be crucified.” There was no gainsaying a hoarse mob like that. The more they were checked, the wilder grew the clamour. It was infinitely disgusting for a patrician Roman to have any discussion with such shouting beasts. He called for water, and standing on the balcony where all could see him, he washed his hands. It was an act that every Jew would understand. A silence fell on the flushed and eager crowd. What was that they heard from the balcony–Pilate protesting his innocence? Another terrible cry rang out in an instant, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” Then Pilate released Barabbas unto them, and when he had scourged Jesus, delivered Him–to be crucified (Matthew 27:26).