Written by Philip Mauro (1859-1952).
CHRIST BEFORE PILATE
Matthew does not record the beginning of the proceedings before Pilate, nor does Mark: but Luke supplies the important facts — “And the whole multitude of them arose and led Him unto Pilate. 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” (Luke 23: 1, 2).
Here was a plainly expressed accusation of treasonable acts and utterances against Caesar. The authority previously quoted has this to say concerning Roman jurisprudence as it existed at that time: “The Roman law was, in the early Empire as it had been during all the later Republic, shaping itself into a system which, in later years, was formulated by the most profound and authoritative jurists the world has ever known. And the spirit of their teachings has since ruled the greatest systems of law. It introduced the search for principles of justice under all exterior forms, and upon those principles as on the bedrock, it laid the foundations of Roman jurisprudence. That jurisprudence unified the power of Rome; and as that power extended so as to embrace all the known and civilized world, so it was that the consolidation of empire came — not by the sword, but — by the genius of law.”
Let us note the turn given to the proceeding by the high priest and elders in accusing Christ before Pilate. The Sanhedrin had adjudged Christ to be guilty of blasphemy in making Himself the Son of God. But the Roman Governor could not have taken cognizance of that charge; for under Roman law it was not a crime for a man to make himself the Son of God. It was needful therefore that Christ should be charged with a political offence and one of a capital nature. Accordingly the charge lodged against Him was that of fomenting sedition. That is the gravest crime that can be committed against a constituted government, and is sure to be visited with the extreme penalty; for it is a crime against the very life of the state.
In Matthew’s account it is recorded that Pilate questioned Christ, saying, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” To which the Lord’s reply is given in the words; “Thou sayest,” which amounts to a strong “Yes.” This was an acknowledgment of His identity and also of His sovereignty. Had He then, whose right it is to reign, ever asserted, publicly or privately, His claim to the throne, or ever presented Himself to the Jews as their King, or ever by word or act sought recognition from them as such? Had He ever proclaimed the hour of Israel’s national deliverance and of the overthrow of Caesar’s dominion as “at hand?” That is what was charged against Him at that time as a capital offence (and a capital offence it was, if true), and that is what is widely averred and taught concerning Him in this our day by teachers who surely cannot be aware of what they are saying.
Matthew gives no further details of the charges preferred against the Lord, but he records with great particularity the fact that Pilate pronounced Him absolutely innocent of those things whereof the leaders of His nation accused him, even declaring Him to be a “righteous Man,” and going so far as to wash his hands publicly, and to avow himself “guiltless of the blood of this Just Person.”
Mark’s account shows that the whole Sanhedrin hurried the Lord into the presence of Pilate and were very vehement in their accusation against Him. That the Lord acknowledged, in answer to Pilate’s question, that He was indeed the King of the Jews, might seem to give support to the charge of perverting the nation. But there is a vast difference between the fact that Christ is the promised King and the charge that He had sought or proposed to overthrow the kingdom of Caesar and set up another kingdom in its stead. Pilate himself recognized this difference. For, after examining Christ in regard to what He was accused of, he said: “I find no fault in this man” (v. 4).
The effect of this acquittal of Christ by Pilate was that “they were the more fierce, saying, ‘He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee’. . .” (v. 5). And this would have been true if, when the Lord “went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4: 23), or if, when He sent forth the twelve to “the cities of Israel” bidding them preach, saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10: 1, 23); or if when, near the close of His ministry, He sent forth other seventy also into every city and place whither He Himself should come, bidding them, to say, “The Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (Luke 10: 1, 9), He had been (as many teachers of our day declare) offering an earthly kingdom to the Jews. But Pilate, who had the accusers and the Accused before him, dismissed the charge as wholly unsupported by the evidence.
Not only so, but Pilate sent Christ also to be examined as to this charge by Herod (who chanced to be at the time at Jerusalem), since the offence, if committed at all, had been mainly in Galilee, over which province Herod had jurisdiction. Now Herod had desired for a long time to see Jesus (whom he thought to be John the Baptist raised from the dead), because he had heard many things of Him. But it is clear that Herod had never heard, what certain modern teachers so positively assert, namely that the Lord in His preaching all over the country was announcing an earthly Kingdom. It seems that no one, until our modern expositors arose with this strange notion, ever supposed that there was a particle of proof to support that charge. Not a single witness came forward to testify to it before either Pilate or Herod. For Pilate gave the final judgment in the case as recorded by Luke thus: “And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers of the people, said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one who perverteth the people (i.e. from their allegiance to Caesar); and, behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse Him. No, nor yet Herod; for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (Luke 23: 13-15).
And yet again, when they insistently demanded that He be crucified, Pilate said to 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.” (v. 22)
But “the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him (i.e. Barabbas) that for sedition and murder was cast into prison.” Thus the man who had been guilty of the very thing, “sedition,” that was falsely charged against the Lord, was released, and He, the innocent One, was condemned in his stead. What a striking illustration we have here of the mighty fact that He suffered once for all, “the Just for the unjust,” that all our iniquities were laid upon Him! And how serious and how lamentable that there should be current among His own people a theory which in fact (however little those who press it may intend it) fastens that false charge of sedition upon Him!
The writer was discussing on one occasion the postponed kingdom theory with one who has been teaching for many years; and when the discussion reached the Lord’s trial before Pilate the writer put to that teacher the direct question, “Was the accusation of stirring up an insurrection against Caesar’s government true?” And our friend replied without a moment’s hesitation, “it was true,” and he had to say so or abandon the postponement theory.
As we have seen by the above quotation from the Gospel of Luke, the Lord was accused before Pilate of “making Himself a King,” and thus raising the standard of revolt and insurrection against Caesar. But the inspired Records also show, and from Pilate’s own lips, that the accusation was utterly unfounded and false, that not a scintilla of evidence, even from the mouth of a false witness, was adduced in support of it. Pilate formally, and in a most impressive manner, pronounced the Lord guiltless of that, and of any other crime or fault. And surely those who know Him will all agree that nothing could have been further from His thought, or from His blameless conduct than to utter so much as a word of suggestion calculated to weaken the authority of the constituted government which He Himself had established and which by His own word was to last throughout “the times of the Gentiles,” authority which He Himself witnessed to Pilate was “from above” (John 19: 11).
Never from that day to this, through all the intervening centuries of time, have even the enemies of Christ sought to fasten upon Him the baseless charge of offering to the Jews of His day the restoration of their national independence, the charge of fomenting insurrection against the constituted civil rulers of His day — “the powers that be:” which then as now were “ordained of God” (Rom. 13: 1). How amazing then that in our day a system of doctrine should have suddenly made its appearance among those who profess the strictest orthodoxy, a doctrine which maintains as the truth of Scripture (when “rightly divided”) that both our Lord and also His accredited servants, by His authority, had been doing persistently and over a period of years the very things whereof He was accused before Pilate!