When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

Christ Before Pilate

At last the day came which we call Good Friday, and early in the morning the officers of the Sanhedrin took Jesus to deliver him to Pilate.

They had already been to prayers in the temple. They had bowed down before God, asking him to bless them. They came from the trial before Caiaphas on their way to the trial before Pilate, and the service was a quiet interval between. There they prayed before the altar, while in the priest's house the Lord of Life was being mocked and spat upon. And they were not bad men: that, as I have said, was the strangest part of it. They were quite sure that they were doing right. They said their prayers with as clear a conscience as any inquisitor before he burned his neighbor at the stake. They acted as they did, not because their hearts were full of sin, but because their minds were full of prejudice. They considered themselves good churchmen; they stood for the old way of the church. And he was not a good churchman: so they said. That was the heart of the whole matter. That is why they hated him and killed him. They were afraid that the Son of God would do harm to the church.

But there was an unpleasant interruption in the midst of that early service. Suddenly, as they were saying their prayers, a man came in with a wild, excited voice, having his hands full of silver pieces. "I have sinned," he cried, "in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." In he came out of a sleepless night, filled with bitter remorse. Judas had done a deed which has made his name despised and hated. He had betrayed his friend. But there was good in him, in spite of that. Nobody knows why he did it. The little money that he got for it seems an insufficient reason. Anyhow, he was sorry for it. However full his heart may have been of evil when Satan entered into him, it was full now of the old love. He came to make a desperate appeal. "Let him go," he asked. "He has done nothing amiss, I have betrayed the innocent blood." "What is that to us?" said the priests and elders, scowling at him. "See thou to that!" Then Judas raised his hands and flung the silver from him. Away flew the thirty pieces, ringing and sliding over the temple floor. And the traitor went and hanged himself.

The elders and scribes and the whole council carried Jesus bound to Pilate. But Pilate was a Roman and a heathen. When he thought of God,—which was not very often,—he thought of him as Jupiter, not as Jehovah; and when he said his prayers he sprinkled grains of incense on burning coals before an idol. The scribes felt that God would not like them if they touched their feet to Pilate's floor. So they stood calling for Pilate, with a crowd gathering out of the neighboring streets, and the news spreading about the town that the Prophet had been seized at last; he had been seized and had made no resistance. One cried, "He said that he could bring down twelve regiments of angels." "Yes," answered another, "but he did not do it." Thus the enthusiasm of Sunday and Monday, such as it was, passed away. Some there were who cared, but not many, and they were mostly in hiding. The crowd did not care.

Pilate heard their voices as he sat at breakfast, and went out. "What accusation," said he, "bring ye against this man?" They said, "He claims to be the King, the King of the Jews." That was, indeed, a serious accusation, and a true one. They meant it for a charge of treason. Cæsar at Rome was the King of the Jews; the scribes wished Pilate to believe that our Lord was the leader of a rebellion, that he was planning a revolution against Rome. It was easy to believe that. The Jews hated to be under the rule of the Romans, and many times rebelled, sometimes for a day in a single city, sometimes in a fierce and wide revolt. At that moment there was lying in Pilate's prison a man named Barabbas, who had led a riot in the streets of Jerusalem in which men had lost their lives. The charge, then, was a likely one.

But Pilate did not believe it. He already knew something about Jesus. He knew that the priests had delivered him for envy, because they feared that he would influence the people against them. He knew that the King of the Jews had undertaken no quarrel against Rome. So he took Jesus into his palace, leaving the council and the crowd outside, and said, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Why do you ask? Do you say this of yourself, or did others tell it of me?" Pilate replied, "Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?" Jesus said, "I am indeed a king, but not of an earthly kingdom. In my kingdom there is neither crown nor army. I was born and came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth. The kingdom of God which I preach is the kingdom of the truth." Pilate did not understand. "What is truth?" he said. But it was plain that here was no cause for the interference of a Roman governor. He went out to the multitude before the palace door, and said, "I find no fault in him at all."

Then was the whole council filled with anger and great dread. They had delivered Jesus to Pilate, and Pilate was about to set him free. Thus the end would be worse than the beginning. They cried out with loud voices, making all manner of charges against him. One said, "He forbids the people to pay taxes;" and another, "He has set the whole land in commotion, from Galilee to Judea." "If he is a Galilean," said the governor," he belongs to Herod,"—the Herod who had beheaded John the Baptist. Pilate tried, accordingly, to transfer the case to Herod, but in vain. Still the crowd, continuously increasing, besieged the door.

jesus before pilate


Pilate then thought of Barabbas. "Here," he said to the people, "is another man under a like accusation. He, too, has taken part in an insurrection, an evil part. You have your choice, now, for I will follow the old custom and release a prisoner at the Passover. Which will you choose, Jesus or Barabbas?" It seemed for a moment that the multitude would ask for the release of Jesus. Why should they not? He had gone about among them doing good, healing the sick, bringing cheer to the poor, making himself one of the people, and never seeking his own gain. And the people had heard him gladly. But the city is different from the country, and a crowd is different from the men who comprise it. A crowd will do what hardly a man in it would be willing to do alone. Moreover, the priests and the scribes, the influential people, persuaded the crowd. What was Reuben to say, coming from the farm, or Levi, from the fishing fleet, in answer to these great men.

So the crowd obeyed the rulers, and when Pilate said, "Shall it be Jesus or Barabbas?" they cried with a great voice, "Barabbas!" Pilate said, "What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." Then said Pilate unto them, "Why, what evil hath he done?" But they had no other answer. They cried out the more exceedingly, "Crucify him." And with the other voices some were heard which said, "If thou let this man go thou art not Cæsar's friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar." And that word nettled Pilate's mind. He was himself in peril, then. They would carry a report to Rome, and there were enemies who were ready to make the most of it.

Even as he sat, however, on the judgment seat, ready to deliver to the death of the cross a man whom he knew to be guiltless of any wrong, his wife sent him a message. "Do nothing," she said, "against that just man. All night I dreamed about him, dreadful dreams." But it was too late. Pilate did indeed take a basin of water, and wash his hands before the multitude saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it." But the crowd answered, "His blood be on us and on our children." And Barabbas was released.

Jesus was then given over to the soldiers, as was the way with a condemned prisoner, that they might scourge him. And the soldiers took him into the common hall, and gathered the whole band together, and they took off his own clothes, and put a purple robe upon him, some ragged and tarnished cast-off finery; and they made a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and into his tied hands they thrust a reed for a sceptre, and they pretended to do homage to him as a king, bowing down on their knees before him each in order, saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" then spitting in his face, and striking him with the reed.

Even after this scourging and mocking, Pilate made one more effort to release his prisoner. He appealed to the pity of the multitude. The king was led before his people, with the mock crown on his head and the mock sceptre in his hand, and the ragged robe of royal purple over his shoulders; and Pilate said, "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Look at him. Behold the man!" But when they saw him there was no pity in their hearts. They cried the same fierce cry, "Crucify him, crucify him." "What!" said Pilate, "shall I crucify your king?" And they all answered, "We have no king but Cæsar." Thus the last word was spoken. Our Lord's own clothes were put again upon him, and he was led away to be crucified.