Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified

Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15;
Luke 23:13-25; John 18:39 to 19:1, 4-16a

About 7:00 am Friday morning, the fifteenth of Nisan

DIG: Why do the people, after witnessing Yeshua’s miracles, hearing His teaching, and praising Him with hosannas, now demand that Jesus be crucified? Why does Pilate grant their request? What insights into the Gospel do you see in the release of bar-Abbas in exchange for Christ (Mark 8:37 and 10:45)? What mental, physical, and emotional brutality do the soldiers inflict on Messiah? Why? Did their mockery stem from fear, anger, unbelief, or what?

REFLECT: When, if ever, have you been caught up in the enthusiasm of a group and done what, in hindsight, you knew was wrong or sinful? What would you think if your ancient relatives make an oath that you were held responsible for? How does the story of bar-Abbas illustrate what Jesus has done for you? In our journey through life, we come to forks in the road. Our decision to trust in Christ is the most crucial choice we make, but it is the first of many. Each day we must choose which kingdom we will serve. Do you feel like you usually submit to truth or succumb to power? Why? If power, what can you do to change that?1562

If Pontus Pilate thought he had escaped from Caiaphas’ snare he was wrong. For soon the entire Jewish group that he had previously tried to get rid of a short time ago managed to find their way back on his doorstep again. He had hoped that Herod Antipas would have taken the problem off of his hands but that plan hadn’t worked. He was going to have to deal with this unpleasant issue himself. The procurator tried several times to release Jesus, but was blocked at every turn by the Jewish religious leaders and the providence of God.

Pilate noticed at once that Herod Antipas had mocked Jesus’ claim of being a king by returning Him with a purple robe draped over His shoulders. The governor interpreted this to mean that, to Herod at least, the Nazarene was comical. A clown among kings.

The party arrived under the double arch of the praetorium and word was sent in that Antipas had interviewed the prisoner and had found Him innocent of any crime against Galilee. In a few minuets Pilate came out for the third timewith his men and again sat in the curule chair in the courtyard. He smiled faintly as the parties to the action assumed their places because the procurator thought that he had won a victory. He had acquitted Jesus once and Herod Antipas had come to the same conclusion. The spiteful little man was ready to squeeze a small triumph from his enemies.

Pilate called together the Sadducees, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.” Then, trying to release Him, Jesus, Pilot continued: I have personally examined Him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against Him. Neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; as you can see. Then this is my verdict. He has done nothing to deserve death (Luke 23:13-15). Over and over again the governor declared Jesus to be innocent of the charges against Him. But the mob, on signal, began to cry for vengeance.

He stood, having pronounced a second verdict. But the amount of venom from the crowd was so shattering that, for an instant, Pilate lost his poise and turned and looked at the people. For a moment, his eyes showed that he more frightened than he was the governor. So they cried out again, saying, “Not this man, but bar-Abbas.” Now bar-Abbas was a robber (John 18:40 NASB). Out of the roar of the crowd, the procurator heard parts of words or phrases, and realized that some were asking a Passover pardon for a prisoner named bar-Abbas. Pilate suddenly realized he could resolve his problem. The potential solution sat in a cell roughly two thousand feet from the praetorium: a well-known robber. He wasn’t merely a petty thief. The Greek term describes what we would call a terrorist, a zealot. Rome hated robbers and pirates who disrupted trade over land and sea. But in Judea, robbery and murder came with a political agenda.1563

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival of Pesach to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6). This action would be doubly symbolic for this festival, which, at its core, is a celebration of freedom from slavery. Without question, the Romans followed this custom with the hope that the compassionate gesture would foster a good relationship with the people that they had conquered.1564

At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was bar-Abbas. It is ironic that bar-Abbas was guilty of the very crime that Jesus was being accused of - sedation against Rome. He was in prison with the zealots who had committed murder in the uprising. But the irony goes even further. We know from secular sources that his full name was Yeshua bar-Abbas, which means salvation, son of the father. So while bar-Abbas was actually guilty, true salvation, Son of the Father, Yeshua the Messiah, was not guilty. Therefore, the crowd forced its way up to the praetorium and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did (Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7-8).

So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate declared: It is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the festival [of Passover] (Matthew 27:17a; John 18:39a). This is the fourth of four Passovers mentioned in the ministry of Christ. The first is mentioned in John 2:13. The second mentioned in John 5:1, the third is referred to in John 6:4, and the fourth in John 11:55, 12:1, 13:1, 18:28 and here in 18:39, and 19:14 see below. By dating these, we are able to conclude that His public ministry lasted three-and-a-half years.1565

So Pilate decided to use the Passover pardon to close the case on Jesus. He thought he could tempt the mob into releasing the Nazarene by giving them a less attractive option. If the Jews chose to release bar-Abbas, a genuine enemy of Rome, they risked damaging the good will of Tiberias. Certainly, they would choose to release the innocent man rather than invite the wrath of Caesar. But the governor underestimated the Sanhedrin’s hatred for Christ.1566 He turned to the crowd and held up both hands for quiet, and then he said: Which one do you want me to release to you? Yeshua bar-Abbas, or Yeshua who is called the Messiah? This was a truly fatal question poorly phrased. The crowd was made up of two factions: a vast majority who backed the Great Sanhedrin and wanted Jesus dead, and a minority of disciples who wanted Yeshua freed. The procurator promised that whomever the people chose, he would punish him and then release him (Mattityahu 27:17b; Mark 15:9; Luke 23:16; Yochanan 18:39b).

The Roman governor knew it was out of self-interest that the Sadducees had handed Jesus over to him (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). The Greek word knew is eginosken, meaning it gradually dawned on him. Their pretense of loyalty to the emperor was too flimsy for him to believe. Like a political shark, he knew the real reason was what it always came down to in his mind, self-interest, and they were swimming in his waters.

Just before the Messiah was brought before the masses of people, Pilot received a disturbing message from his wife. While he was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him” (Matthew 27:19).

But the Sadducees and the elders stirred up the crowd to ask for bar-Abbas’ release and to have Yeshua executed on the stake. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. The response surprised Pilate because he didn’t realize that the mob in front of him didn’t represent the true feelings of the approximately one million people who had crowded into Jerusalem for the Passover.But it seemed like the whole crowd shouted back almost in chorus: Away with this man! Give us bar-Abbas. By this time the priests didn’t have to prompt the people.

Besides the obvious sovereignty of God, quite likely the Jerusalem crowd preferred bar-Abbas was because he was a zealot, committed to active resistance against Rome. He had been thrown into prison for an insurrection and murder in the City of David (Matthew 27:20-21; Mark 15:11 CJB; Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). When this failed, Pilate made another attempt to release Jesus.

Then, in an effort to appease the crowd, Pilate had Jesus cruelly whipped (John 19:1). This was the third mockery. At that time the Romans used three forms of punishment: the fustigatio, wasa less severe whipping meted out for relatively light offenses such as criminal activity; the flagellatio, a more serious, cruel whipping for greater offenses; but theverberatio, a flogging, was the most terrible of all and the one that always preceded the crucifixion. It was so terrible that it was not unusual for a man to die from the flogging before reaching the cross to be crucified. Consequently, it appears the Jesus was abused twice on Friday, the fifteenth of Nisan - first, here, with flagellatio, a cruel whipping in an effort to appease the Jewish mob; and then secondly, when that didn’t work, the dreaded verberatio in preparation for the cross.

For the fourth time Pilate came out and sat in his chair. He had hoped that seeing Jesus mocked, humiliated and beaten would satisfy the angry crowd in his courtyard. But they would accept nothing less a sentence of crucifixion. This time he seemed impatient. He glanced angrily at the crowd and, raising his right hand high, he said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him” (John 19:4)! This was another declaration of His innocence.

But the concession by Pilate to have Jesus cruelly whipped had failed. Wanting to release Christ, Pilate appealed to them again, saying: What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the king of the Jews? Pilate asked them. What do you do with a man who claims to be God, but hates religion? What do you do with a man who calls himself Savior, yet condemns systems? What do you do with a man who knows the place and time of His death, yet goes anyway? You can either accept Him or reject Him. Perhaps the crowd resented his desire to dictate their answer, and, with fickle cruelty, the mob all kept shouting, “Crucify Him!” “Crucify Him” (Mt 27:22; Mk 15:12-13; Lk 23:20-21)!

Shocked, Pilate dropped the prisoner’s hand and continued to speak to them. Still reluctant, he asked: Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have Him punished and then release Him. But as soon as the Sadducees and their officials saw Jesus, they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him,” “Crucify!” “Crucify!” But Pilate answered: You take Him and crucify Him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him (Matthew 27:23; Mark 15:14; Luke 23:22; John 19:6). But it was useless.

Then the Jewish leaders came up with the real reason they wanted Him crucified. They insisted: We have a commandment, and according to the Torah He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7). This caught Pilate off guard. The title “Son of God” was especially meaningful to the Romans. In fact, Caesar Augustus declared himself the son of god because he was heir to the power and title of Julius Caesar, who had been declared god. The governor was at his wit’s end.

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid. He turned on his gilded sandals and walked quickly back inside to his headquartersfor a second private interview with Christ. Once inside, it was the procurator who seemed pressured. “Where do You come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. Insolence! Do You refuse to speak to me? It seemed like he was trying to save a man who wasn’t interested in being saved. Agitated, Pilate spoke slowly through his teeth: Don’t you realize I have power either to free You or to crucify You? But Yeshua let the Roman governor know who was really in control. With dry broken lips He answered in a hoarse voice: You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore, the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of a greater sin (John 19:8-11). Pontius Pilate was running out of time and options.

The governor continued to try his best and set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). This got his attention. Unfortunately for Pilate, two years earlier in 31 AD Tiberius had discovered his good friend Sejanus (see Lo – Jesus Before Pilate) had poisoned the emperor’s son Drusus and executed the traitor. So Pilate would find no help from Rome. The last thing he needed was someone who claimed that he was no friend of Caesar. Then to release someone who claimed to be king of the Jews, and a competitor to Caesar, was unthinkable. He wasn’t going to risk his life for this Jew, even if He did claim to be the Son of God.1567

On the other hand, the procurator didn’t really have to make an immediate judgment. He could merely sent Jesus to the Antonia Fortress to be held until further notice. In fact, Pilot could hold Yeshua there until after the Passover – perhaps long after the Passover, when he had already left town. But he could also tell the Jews were intent on action and action immediately. Otherwise there would be trouble with them and for his own sake he didn’t need trouble with the Jews. What was Jewish prisoner to him? So he finally sent Caiaphas on his way and reluctantly accepted custody of the Nazarene. The fate of Messiah was then in the hands of Rome.

One might think there were tens of thousands of people shouting at Pilate. But recent archaeological discoveries have confirmed that the area was only large enough to hold about 500 people. So the crowd that passionately opposed Jesus was comparatively small and surely didn’t represent every Jew in the City, let alone the entire Jewish world! Obviously their actions in the heat of the moment can’t be applied to all future Jewish generations.1568

It was the day of Preparation of the Passover, and Shabbat would begin at sundown that late afternoon. Preparation day is, therefore, the day before the Sabbath. This is standard Jewish language found in all rabbinic literature, and it always means the sixth day of the week, or Friday. They were starting to mentally prepare themselves for Queen Sabbath. In other words, it was Friday, the fifteenth of Nisan during the Passover celebration. It was to be a special Sabbath, or a high Sabbath,because it was also the first day of Pesach (Mk 15:42a; Jn 19:14a, 31a 23:54).

It was about the sixth hour (John 19:14b NASB). According to the famous messianic Jew Alfred Edersheim, in the Fourth Gospel time is reckoned not according to the Jewish mode, but according to the Roman civil day, from midnight to midnight.1569 Here, John speaks of the trial as still not being completed at about the sixth hour, or 6:00 am as the Romans calculated time.1570 We have estimated Pilot’s sentencing to be about 7:00 am. So that puts us in about the right time frame.

When Pilate heard the crowd shout, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar,” he immediately brought the Nazarene out and he himself sat down on the judge’s seat called the bema(John 19:12-13a). It was a raised platform from which official decrees were read, including verdicts and sentences in criminal trials.1571 It had the advantages of a private entrance for Pilate, and it also provided a place where prisoners such as Jesus could be led out and tried, then quietly walked back to their prison cells. Yeshua was judged at the bema seat of Pilate, and as believers, we will be judged at the bema seat of Christ (see my commentary on Revelation Cc – We Must All Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ).

At a place known as the Pavement of stone, which in Aramaic is Gabbatha (John 19:13b). It was an open-air courtyard paved with flagstones within the praetorium, which served as military housing for the Romans guarding the procurator. The courtyard was next to Pilate’s residence, so the Jewish delegation didn’t technically violate the Sabbath and were permitted to enter on the day of Preparation of the Passover. That explains the presence of the Sadducees, who represented Caiaphas, made sure the sentence handed down by the Sanhedrin was carried out.

Then Pilate had the tribune take Jesus out to be flogged (at this point, please stop and read Lr – The Soldiers Mock Jesus).

The crowd was hushed and Pilate was about to speak when he saw the prisoner return from His flogging. Caiaphas also looked across the polished stones to the left and saw a tribune and some soldiers leading Jesus out of the adjacent courtyard. The prisoner could not be seen, because two of the soldiers in front blocked the view. But the slowness of the procession indicated that the prisoner was not in good condition. The group drew up close to the arches beside the procurator. Then the soldiers pulled away, and Jesus was left standing, with but two soldiers flanking him and holding him erect.

The Son of God came out wearing the crown of thorns and [the soldiers] own purple robe. Some in the crowd gasped. Their eyes showing the horror set before them, and some turned away in disgust. This man was a shocking sight. The hair, under the thorns, was damp and discolored. The face was so marred that individual features were almost indistinguishable, and the body teetered slowly backward. The soldiers leaned closer to keep Him erect. His eyes were glazed over as He stared straight ahead.1572

Pilate said to the crowd, “Here is your king!” Their response was predictable. With loud shouts they insistently demanded that Jesus be crucified, “Take Him away! Crucify Him! Execute Him on a stake like a common criminal.” Pilate asked: Shall I crucify your king?” The Sadducees answered: We have no king but Caesar. These were the very ones who tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Caesar (see Iz – Is It Right For Us to Pay Taxes to Caesar or Not?). Now they themselves rejected the Jewish king and accepted a Gentile one when they cried out: We have no king but Caesar. And their shouts prevailed (Luke 23:23; John 19:5 and 15).

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, and seemed a little perplexed by the crowd’s choice.But when he saw where all the turmoil was leading, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. This was a Jewish symbol, not a Roman one. Moshe had established it in Deuteronomy 21. In its original form, in concerned the action to be taken in the atonement for an unsolved murder. The elders and judges of the nearest town from which the body was found had to kill a heifer and wash their hands over it, saying: Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood (Deuteronomy 21:1-9).1573 This declaration of innocence was the most strategic because it came right from the judgment seat itself. I am innocent of this man’s blood, he declared. It is your responsibility (Matthew 27:24)!

All the people in the small courtyard answered, including the religious leaders, saying: His blood is on us and on our children (Mattityahu 27:25)! But unwittingly they took upon themselves the curse of the blood. This curse, however, does not go beyond 70 AD (see the details of this curse in It – The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah). If the Jews were the only ones who killed Jesus, then He didn’t die for anyone else. But He died for all, not just the Jews. Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, is a sinner. By sinning, everyone killed Him. So everyone, not just the Jews, is guilty of His death (Yochanan 3:16; Romans 3:23, 5:7-8; First John 2:1).1574

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate decided to grant their demand and released bar-Abbas to them. He was the zealot who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder (Matthew 27:26a; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:24-25a). Some argue that Pilate’s protests against putting Yeshua to death show that he did not want to do it, and therefore little blame rests with him. To this is added the argument that Messiah Himself says there is one whose blame in the matter is greater than Pilate’s (John 19:11). If these arguments are true, they support anti-Semitism: the Jews and not the Gentiles (as represented by Pontus Pilate) are responsible for the death of Jesus.

But these verses above take pains to show just how weak-willed and unconcerned for justice the procurator was. The yelling and shouting of the mob prevailed over him. He decided (the Greek can mean passed judgment) to grant their demand rather than the righteous demand of justice. He released a man whose black character Luke paints with the words insurrection and murder. Consequently, Pilate not only surrendered his feeble intentions but his commission under Roman law and under God (for Genesis 9:5-6, which establishes human government to protect human life, applies to Gentiles as well as to Jews), not to do the will of the Jewish people as a whole but to do the will of an unruly mob.1575

Whether he knew it or not, Pilate stood at the crucial juncture in his life. He had to decide which kingdom he would serve. Tiberius or Jesus. The kingdoms of earth or the kingdom of heaven? Power or truth? But as most politicians do, public popularity trumped personal integrity. When forced to choose, he elected to trust in power, and to serve Rome. He did what was politically expedient. If he had rendered a “not guilty” verdict and released Jesus, it would have destroyed his political career and probably would have invited severe punishment from Rome. So instead of submitting to kingdom of God, Pilate set the truth aside for the sake of power, earthly success and short-term comfort.1576

Although Pilate believed he was washing his hands of this matter, he is far from innocent. The responsibility belonged to him alone. Only the Roman governor possessed the ius gladii - “the right of the sword,” or, as it is also known, the right to execute.1577 Pilate’s washing of his hands did not dismiss his role in Christ’s death. This washing was a futile gesture. In the book of Acts his role in the crucifixion is clearly stated by both Peter and Paul (Acts 3:13, 4:27 and 13:28). Nor has the Church ever forgotten his role. Among the earliest creeds of Church, the Apostle’s Creed, says, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” In 36 AD Pilate was banished to Gaul, by Emperor Caligula, and there he committed suicide. He paid dearly for his role in the death of the Messiah.1578

Caiaphas and his colleagues from the Sanhedrin could not help looking pleased. Once more they had beaten this stubborn Gentile and beaten him soundly. Pilate correctly judged the temper of the crowd to be getting out of hand. He didn’t want to have a riot at the gates to his headquarters and he surely didn’t want to be known as the instigator. So he gathered what dignity he had left, and, turning from the gates, ordered the tribune to release bar-Abbas at once.

Then Pontius Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified (Matthew 27:26b; Luke 23:25b; John 19:16a). It was about 8:00 am. Yeshua, the real Son of the Father, would die, while bar-Abbas, the one who claimed to be the son of the father, was released. The one deserving of death was freed, and the innocent One was crucified.

In 1915 Pastor William Barton started to publish a series articles. Using the archaic language of an ancient storyteller, he wrote his parables under the pen name of Safed the Sage. And for the next fifteen years he shared the wisdom of Safed and his enduring spouse Keturah. It was a genre he enjoyed. By the early 1920s, Safed was said to have a following of at least three million. Turning an ordinary event into an illustration of a spiritual truth was always a keynote of Barton’s ministry.

I rode upon a Railway Train, Somewhere in Kansas, and the Train stopped Thirty Minuets for Lunch. And at one end of the Station was there a little Park, with two great Sun Dials, where one showed Central Time and the other showed Mountain Time. And the Park was attractive, and had Cost the Railway Some Coin, and the result was worth it.

Now there stood in the little Park, right by the Train, a strong White Post, about four feet high. And there was a framed in the top of the post an old-time Drawbar, with a Coupling-Pin and a Link. And upon the Post was painted in Black Letters: Lest We Forget.

And I said to myself, It may be that this is the town where the man lived who first invented the Safety Coupler.

And I entered the Station, and I asked the Young Man who was the Clerk of the Station Hotel. And I ask of him, saying: Why is that Post with the old Drawbar erected in this Town rather than in another?

And he said, Where is it at? For I have never seen it.

And I inquired of another, and he said, Search me; for I have never noticed it.

And I inquired of the Station Agent, and he said, I once knew, but I have forgotten.

Then the Conductor said, All Aboard, and I got on board.

And I considered the days of my boyhood, when I played about the Railroad Cars, and I knew the men who worked on them; and many of them had lost fingers that were crushed in coupling cars. And many lost their hands, and others lost their lives.

And I said, See, there was one who considered all these things, and sat up nights, and by chance pawned his Shirt that he might invent a method of avoiding all this. And here is his memorial, marked: Lest We Forget. And some pass by it every day and never see it; and others once knew its meaning but they have forgotten.

And I looked out of the train window as we moved along, and I beheld a Church, and upon the Church was a Steeple, and upon the Steeple was a Cross.

And I thought of the multitudes who continually pass it by,
and I was grieved in my heart; for I said, Among them
are those who say, I have never seen it; and
others say, I have seen it, but what it
means, I do not know. And
others say, Wow, I once
knew, but I have
forgotten.
1579

 

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