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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
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
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
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." Luke 20:22-25.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 and beard.
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
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
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
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
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 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 Caesar."
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 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 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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