Jesus of Nazareth



Crucified by Diego Valazquez
Crucified by Diego Valazquez

Who is Jesus if Nazareth?

(Iesous) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Joshua" (yehoshua`), meaning "Yahweh is salvation."

It stands therefore in the Septuagint and Apocrypha for "Joshua," and in Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8 likewise represents the Old Testament Joshua; hence, in the Revised Version (British and American) is in these passages rendered "Joshua." In Matthew 1:21 the name as commanded by the angel to be given to the son of Mary, "for it is he that shall save his people from their sins" (see below on "Nativity").

It is the personal name of the Lord in the Gospels and the Acts, but generally in the Epistles appears in combination with "Christ" or other appellative (alone in Romans 3:26; 4:24; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 11:4; Philippians 2:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Hebrews 7:22; 10:19, etc.).





(Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah" (mashiach; compare in the New Testament, John 1:41; 4:25, "Messiah"), meaning "anointed" (see MESSIAH). It designates Jesus as the fulfiller of the Messianic hopes of the Old Testament and of the Jewish people. It will be seen below that Jesus Himself made this claim. After the resurrection it became the current title for Jesus in the apostolic church.

Most frequently in the Epistles He is called "Jesus Christ," sometimes "Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1,2,39; 1 Corinthians 1:2,30; 4:15; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:4,28 the King James Version; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, etc.), often "Christ" alone (Romans 1:16 the King James Version; Romans 5:6,8; 6:4,8,9; 8:10, etc.). In this case "Christ" has acquired the force of a proper name. Very frequently the term is associated with "Lord" (kurios)--"the (or "our") Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 11:17; 15:11 the King James Version; Acts 16:31 the King James Version; Acts 20:21; 28:31; Romans 1:7; 5:1,11; 13:14; 1 Corinthians 16:23, etc.).

Date of Jesus' Birth

Though challenged by some (Caspari, Bosanquet, Conder, etc., put it as late as 1 BC) the usual date for the death of Herod the Great, March, 4 BC (year of Rome 750), may be assumed as correct (for grounds of this dating, see Schurer, op. cit., Div. I, Vol. I, 464-67). The birth of Jesus was before, and apparently not very long before, this event (Matthew 2). It may therefore be placed with probability in the latter part of the previous year (5 BC), the ordinary dating of the commencement of the Christian era being thus, as is generally recognized, four years too late. There is no certainty as to the month or day of the birth.

The Christmas date, December 25, is first met with in the West in the 4th century (the eastern date was January 6), and was then possibly borrowed from a pagan festival. December, in the winter season, seems unlikely, as unsuitable for the pasturing of flocks (Luke 2:8), though this objection is perhaps not decisive (Andrews, Conder). A more probable date is a couple of months earlier.

The synchronism with Quirinius (Luke 2:2) is considered in connection with the nativity. The earlier datings of 6, 7, or even 8 BC, suggested by Ramsay, Mackinlay and others, on grounds of the assumed Roman census, astronomical phenomena, etc., appear to leave too long an interval before the death of Herod, and conflict with other data, as Luke 3:1 (see below).

Baptism

John is said by Luke to have begun to preach and baptize "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius" (Luke 3:1), and Jesus "was about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23) when He was baptized by John, and entered on His ministry. If the 15th year of Tiberius is dated, as seems most likely, from his association with Augustus as colleague in the government, 765 AUC, or 12 AD (Tacitus, Annals i.3; Suetonius on Augustus, 97), and if Jesus may be supposed to have been baptized about 6 months after John commenced his work, these data combine in bringing us to the year 780 AUC, or 27 AD, as the year of our Lord's baptism, in agreement with our former conclusion as to the date of His birth in 5 BC. To place the birth earlier is to make Jesus 32 or 33 years of age at His baptism--an unwarrantable extension of the "about." In accord with this is the statement in John 2:20 that the temple had been 46 years in building (it began in 20-19 BC) at the time of Christ's first Passover; therefore in 780 AUC, or 27-AD (compare Schurer, op. cit., Div. I, Vol. I, 410).

Length of Ministry

The determination of the precise duration of our Lord's ministry involves more doubtful elements. Setting aside, as too arbitrary, schemes which would, with some of the early Fathers, compress the whole ministry into little over a single year (Browne, Hort, etc.)--a view which involves without authority the rejection of the mention of the Passover in John 6:4--there remains the choice between a two years' and a three years' ministry.

Both have able advocates (Turner in article "Chronology," and Sanday in article "Jesus Christ," in H D B, advocate the two years' scheme; Farrar, Ramsay, D. Smith, etc., adhere to the three years' scheme). An important point is the view taken of the unnamed "feast" in John 5:1. John has already named a Passover--Christ's first--in 2:13,23; another, which Jesus did not attend, is named in 6:4; the final Passover, at which He was crucified, appears in all the evangelists. If the "feast" of John 5:1 (the article is probably to be omitted) is also, as some think, a Passover, then John has four Passovers, and a three years' ministry becomes necessary.

It is claimed, however, that in this case the "feast" would almost certainly have been named. It still does not follow, even if a minor feast--say Purim--is intended, that we are shut up to a two years' ministry. Mr. Turner certainly goes beyond his evidence in affirming that "while two years must, not more than two years can, be allowed for the interval from John 2:13,23 to John 11:55." The two years' scheme involves, as will be seen on consideration of details, a serious overcrowding and arbitrary transposition of incidents, which speak to the need of longer time. We shall assume that the ministry lasted for three years, reserving reasons till the narrative is examined.

Date of Death

On the hypothesis now accepted, the crucifixion of Jesus took place at the Passover of 30 AD. On the two years' scheme it would fall a year earlier. On both sides it is agreed that it occurred on the Friday of the week of the Passover, but it is disputed whether this Friday was the 14th or the 15th day of the month. The Gospel of John is pleaded for the former date, the Synoptics for the latter. The question will be considered in connection with the time of the Last Supper. Meanwhile it is to be observed that, if the 15th is the correct date, there seems reason to believe that the 15th of Nisan fell on a Friday in the year just named, 783 AUG, or 30 AD. We accept this provisionally as the date of the crucifixion.

Miracles

Everyone is aware that the presence of miracle in the Gospels is a chief ground of the rejection of its history by the representatives of the "modern" school. It is not questioned that it is a super-natural person whose picture is presented in the Gospels. There is no real difference between the Synoptics and John in this respect. "Even the oldest Gospel," writes Bousset, "is written from the standpoint of faith; already for Mark, Jesus is not only the Messiah of the Jewish people, but the miraculous eternal Son of God, whose glory shone in the world" (Was wissen wir von Jesus? 54, 57).

But the same writer, interpreting the "modern" spirit, declares that no account embracing supernatural events can be accepted as historical. "The main characteristic of this modern mode of thinking," he says, "rests upon the determination to try to explain everything that takes place in the world by natural causes, or--to express it in another form--it rests on the determined assertion of universal laws to which all phenomena, natural and spiritual, are subject" (What Is Religion? English translation, 283).

With such an assumption it is clear that the Gospels are condemned before they are read. Not only is Jesus there a supernatural person, but He is presented as super-natural in natural in character, in works, in claims (see below); He performs miracles; He has a supernatural birth, and a supernatural resurrection. All this is swept away. It may be allowed that He had remarkable gifts of healing, but these are in the class of "faithcures" (thus Harnack), and not truly supernatural.

When one seeks the justification for this selfconfident dogmatism, it is difficult to discover it, except on the ground of a pantheistic or monistic theory of the universe which excludes the personal God of Christianity. If God is the Author and Sustainer of the natural system, which He rules for moral ends, it is impossible to see why, for high ends of revelation and redemption, a supernatural economy should not be engrafted on the natural, achieving ends which could not otherwise be attained. This does not of course touch the question of evidence for any particular miracle, which must be judged of from its connection with the person of the worker, and the character of the apostolic witnesses.

The well-meant effort to explain all miracles through the action of unknown natural laws--which is what Dr. Sanday calls "making both ends meet" (Life of Christ in Recent Research, 302)--breaks down in the presence of such miracles as the instantaneous cleansing of the leper, restoration of sight to the blind, the raising of the dead, acts which plainly imply an exercise of creative power. In such a life as Christ's, transcendence of the ordinary powers of Nature is surely to be looked for.

His Arrest

During the last year of the ministry of Jesus, the hostility of the Jews to Him had greatly increased, and some six months before they finally succeeded in accomplishing their purpose, they had definitely resolved to make away with Him. At the Feast of Tabernacles they sent officers (the temple-guards) to take Him while He was teaching in the temple (John 7:32); but these, after listening to His words, returned without having made the attempt, giving as a reason that "never man so spake" (John 7:46).

After His raising of Lazarus, their determination to kill Him was greatly intensified. A special meeting of the council was held to consider the matter. There Caiaphas, the high priest, strongly advocated such a step on national grounds, and on the ground of expediency, quoting in support of his advice, in a cold-blooded and cynical manner, the Jewish adage that it was expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. Their plans to this end were frustrated, for the time being, by Jesus withdrawing Himself to the border of the wilderness, where He remained with His disciples (John 11:47-54).

On His return to Bethany and Jerusalem, six days before the Passover, they were deterred from carrying out their design on account of His manifest popularity with the people, as evidenced by His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the first day of the Passover week (Palm Sunday), and by the crowds who thronged around Him, and listened to His teachings in the temple, and who enjoyed the discomfiture of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, as they successively sought to entangle Him in His talk. Two days before the Passover, at a council meeting held in the palace of Caiaphas, they planned to accomplish their purpose by subtlety, but "not during the feast, lest a tumult arise among the people" (Matthew 26:3-5; Mark 14:1,2). While they were in this state of perplexity, to their great relief Judas came to them and agreed to betray his Master for money (Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10,11).

Arrest in the Garden

On their arrival at the garden, Jesus came forward to meet them, and the traitor Judas gave them the appointed signal by kissing Him. As the order or warrant was a Jewish one, the temple officers would probably be in front, the soldiers supporting them as reserves. On Jesus announcing to the leaders that He was the one they sought, what the chief priests had feared actually occurred. There was something in the words or bearing of Jesus which awed the temple officers; they were panic-stricken, went backward, and fell to the ground. On their rallying, the impetuous Peter drew his sword, and cut off the ear of one of them, Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:6-10). On this evidence of resistance the Roman captain and soldiers came forward, and with the assistance of the Jewish officers bound Jesus.

Under the Jewish law this was not lawful before condemnation, save in exceptional cases where resistance was either offered or apprehended. Even in this trying hour the concern of Jesus was more for others than for Himself, as witness His miracle in healing the ear of Malchus, and His request that His disciples might be allowed their liberty (John 18:8). Notwithstanding His efforts, His followers were panic-stricken, probably on account of the vigorous action of the officers and soldiers after the assault by Peter, "and they all left him and fled" (Mark 14:50). It is worthy of note that Jesus had no word of blame or censure for the Roman officers or soldiers who were only doing their sworn duty in supporting the civil authorities; but His pungent words of reproach for not having attempted His arrest while He was teaching openly in the temple were reserved for "the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and elders" (Luke 22:52), who had shown their inordinate zeal and hostility by taking the unusual, and for those who were to sit as judges on the case, the improper and illegal course of accompanying the officers, and themselves taking part in the arrest.

Taken to the City

The whole body departed with their prisoner for the city. From the first three Gospels one might infer that they went directly to the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest. In the Fourth Gospel, however, we are told that they took him first to Annas (John 18:13). Why they did so we are not informed, the only statement made being that he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas (John 18:13). He had been the high priest from 7 AD to 15 AD, when he was deposed by Valerius Gratus, the Roman procurator. He was still the most influential member of the Sanhedrin, and, being of an aggressive disposition, it may be that it was he who had given instructions as to the arrest, and that they thought it their duty to report first to him. Annas, however, sent Jesus bound to Caiaphas (John 18:24). Having delivered over their prisoner, the Roman soldiers would proceed to their quarters in the castle, the temple officials retaining Jesus in their charge. Meanwhile, the members of the Sanhedrin were assembling at the palace of the high priest, and the preliminary steps toward the first or Jewish trial were being taken.

Jewish Trial

It is the just boast of those countries whose jurisprudence had its origin in the common law of England, that their system of criminal law is rounded upon the humane maxims that everyone is presumed to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty, and that no one is bound to criminate himself. But the Jewish law went even farther in the safeguards which it placed around an accused person. In the Pentateuch it is provided that one witness shall not be sufficient to convict any man of even a minor offense. "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15).

These principles of the Mosaic law were elaborated and extended in the system which grew up after the return from Babylon. It was begun by the men of the Great Synagogue, and was afterward completed by the Sanhedrin which succeeded them. Up to the time of our Lord, and for the first two centuries of the Christian era, their rules remained largely in an oral or unwritten form, until they were compiled or codified in the Mishna by Rabbi Judah and his associates and successors in the early part of the 3rd century. It is generally conceded by both Jewish and Christian writers that the main provisions, therein found for the protection of accused persons, had been long incorporated in the oral law and were recognized as a part of it in the time of Annas and Caiaphas.

The provisions relating to criminal trials, and especially to those in which the offense was punishable by death, were very stringent and were all framed in the interest of the accused. Among them were the following: The trial must be begun by day, and if not completed before night it must be adjourned and resumed by day; the quorum of judges in capital cases was 23, that being the quorum of the Grand Council; a verdict of acquittal, which required only a majority of one, might be rendered on the same day as the trial was completed; any other verdict could only be rendered on a subsequent day and required a majority of at least two; no prisoner could be convicted on his own evidence; it was the duty of a judge to see that the interests of the accused were fully protected. The modern practice of an information or complaint and a preliminary investigation before a magistrate was wholly unknown to the Jewish law and foreign to its genius. The examination of the witnesses in open court was in reality the beginning of a Jewish trial, and the crime for which the accused was tried, and the sole charge he had to meet, was that which was disclosed by the evidence of the witnesses.

Roman Trial

Let us see how far the foregoing principles and rules were followed and observed in the proceedings before the high priest in the present instance. The first step taken in the trial was the private examination of Jesus by the high priest, which is recorded only in John 18:19-23. Opinions differ as to whether this examination was conducted by Annas at his residence before he sent Jesus to Caiaphas (John 18:24), or by the latter after Jesus had been delivered up to him. Caiaphas was actually the high priest at the time, and had been for some years. Annas had been deposed from the office about 14 years previously by the Roman procurator; but he was still accorded the title (Acts 4:6). Many of the Jews did not concede the right of the procurator to depose him, and looked upon him as still the rightful high priest. He is also said to have been at this time the vice-president of the Sanhedrin. The arguments as to which of them is called the high priest by John in this passage are based largely upon two different renderings of John 18:24. In the King James Version the verse reads "Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest," a reading based upon the Textus Receptus of the New Testament which implies that Jesus had been sent to Caiaphas before the examination.

On the other hand, the Revised Version (British and American), following the Greek text adopted by Nestle and others, reads, "Annas therefore sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest," implying that Annas sent him to Caiaphas on account of what had taken place in the examination. However, it is not material which of these two leading members of the Sanhedrin conducted the examination. The same may also be said as to the controversy regarding the residence of Annas at the time, whether it was in some part of the official palace of the high priest or elsewhere. The important matters are the fact, the time, and the manner of the examination by one or other of these leading members of the council, not the precise place where, or the particular person by whom, it was conducted.

The high priest (whether Annas or Caiaphas) proceeded to interrogate Jesus concerning His disciples and His doctrine (John 18:19). Such a proceeding formed no part of a regular Jewish trial, and was, moreover, not taken in good faith; but with a view to entrapping Jesus into admissions that might be used against Him at the approaching trial before the council. It appears to have been in the nature of a private examination, conducted probably while the members of the council were assembling. The dignified and appropriate answer of Jesus pointedly brought before the judge the irregularity he was committing, and was a reminder that His trial should begin with the examination of the witnesses: "'I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said" (John 18:20,21 the King James Version). The reply to this was a blow from one of the officers, an outrageous proceeding which appears to have passed unrebuked by the judge, and it was left to Jesus Himself to make the appropriate protest.

Night Trial

The next proceeding was the trial before the council in the palace of Caiaphas, attended at least by the quorum of 23. This was an illegal meeting, since a capital trial, as we have seen, could not either be begun or proceeded with at night. Some of the chief priests and elders, as previously stated, had been guilty of the highly improper act for judges, of taking part in and directing the arrest of Jesus. Now, "the chief priests and the whole council" spent the time intervening between the arrest and the commencement of the trial in something even worse: they "sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death" (Matthew 26:59).

This, no doubt, only means that they then collected their false witnesses and instructed them as to the testimony they should give. For weeks, ever since the raising of Lazarus, they had been preparing for such a trial, as we read: "So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put him to death" (John 11:53). Caiaphas, as high priest and president of the Sanhedrin, presided at the meeting of the council. The oath administered to witnesses in a Jewish court was an extremely solemn invocation, and it makes one shudder to think of the high priest pronouncing these words to perjured witnesses, known by him to have been procured by the judges before him in the manner stated.

False Witnesses

But even this did not avail. Although "many bare false witness against him," yet on account of their having been imperfectly tutored by their instructors, or for other cause, "their witness agreed not together" (Mark 14:56), and even these prejudiced and partial judges could not find the concurring testimony of two witnesses required by their law (Deuteronomy 19:15). The nearest approach to the necessary concurrence came at last from two witnesses, who gave a distorted report of a figurative and enigmatic statement made by Jesus in the temple during His early ministry: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19).

The explanation is given: "He spake of the temple of his body" (John 2:21). The testimony of the two witnesses is reported with but slight variations in the two first Gospels as follows: "This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days" (Matthew 26:61); and "We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands" (Mark 14:58). Whether these slightly different statements represent the discrepancies in their testimony, or on account of some other variations or contradictions, the judges reluctantly decided that "not even so did their witness agree together" (Mark 14:59).

Caiaphas, having exhausted his list of witnesses, and seeing the prosecution on which he had set his heart in danger of breaking down for the lack of legal evidence, adopted a blustering tone, and said to Jesus, "Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace" (Matthew 26:62,63), relying on the fact that the prosecution had utterly failed on account of the lack of agreement of two witnesses on any of the charges. As a final and desperate resort, Caiaphas had recourse to a bold strategic move to draw from Jesus an admission or confession on which he might base a condemnation, similar to the attempt which failed at the preliminary examination; but this time fortifying his appeal by a solemn adjuration in the name of the Deity. He said to Jesus: "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:63,64).

Caiaphas, although knowing that under the law Jesus could not be convicted on His own answers or admissions, thereupon in a tragic manner "rent his garments, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? They answered and said, He is worthy of death (Matthew 26:65,66). The night session then broke up to meet again after daybreak in order to ratify the decision just come to, and to give a semblance of legality to the trial and verdict. The closing scene was one of disorder, in which they spat in their prisoner's face and buffeted him (Matthew 26:67,68; Luke 22:63-65).

The Morning Session

The following morning, "as soon as it was day," the council reassembled in the same place, and Jesus was led into their presence (Luke 22:66). There were probably a number of the council present who had not attended the night session. For the benefit of these, and perhaps to give an appearance of legality to the proceeding, the high priest began the trial anew, but not with the examination of witnesses which had proved such a failure at the night session. He proceeded at once to ask substantially the same questions as had finally brought out from Jesus the night before the answer which he had declared to be blasphemy, and upon which the council had "condemned him to be worthy of death" (Mark 14:64).

The meeting is mentioned in all the Gospels, the details of the examination are related by Luke alone. When asked whether He was the Christ, He replied, "If I tell you, ye will not believe: and if I ask you, ye will not answer. But from henceforth shall the Son of man be seated at the right hand of the power of God" (Luke 22:67-69). This answer not being sufficient to found a verdict of blasphemy upon, they all cried out, "Art thou then the Son of God?" To this He gave an affirmative answer, "Ye say that I am. And they said, What further need have we of witness? for we ourselves have heard from his own mouth" (Luke 22:70,71).

Powers of the Sanhedrin

It will be observed that neither at the night nor at the morning session was there any sentence pronounced upon Jesus by the high priest. There was on each occasion only what would be equivalent to a verdict of guilty found by a jury under our modern criminal practice, but no sentence passed upon the prisoner by the presiding judge. When Judea lost the last vestige of its independence and became a Roman province (6 AD), the Sanhedrin ceased to have the right to inflict Capital punishment or to administer the law of life and death. This jurisdiction was thenceforth transferred to the Roman procurator.

The Sanhedrin submitted very reluctantly to this curtailment of its powers. A few years later it exercised it illegally and in a very riotous manner in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:58). Annas, however, of all men, had good reason not to violate this law, as his having done so during the absence of the procurator was the cause of his being deposed from the office of high priest by Valerius Gratus (15 AD). The proceedings may have been taken before the high priest in the hope that Pilate might be induced to accept the verdict of the Sanhedrin as conclusive that Jesus had been guilty of an offense punishable by death under the Jewish law.

Condemnation for Blasphemy

Now what was the precise crime or crimes for which Jesus was tried at these two sittings of the council? The first impression would probably be that there was no connection between the charge of destroying the temple and building another in three days, and His claiming to be the Son of God. And yet they were closely allied in the Jewish mind. The Jewish nation being a pure theocracy, the overthrow of the temple, the abode of the Divine Sovereign, would mean the overthrow of Divine institutions, and be an act of treason against the Deity. The profession of ability to build another temple in three days would be construed as a claim to the possession of supernatural power and, consequently, blasphemy. As to the other claim which He Himself made and confessed to the council, namely, that He was the Christ, the Son of God, none of them would have any hesitation in concurring in the verdict of the high priest that it was rank blasphemy, when made by one whom they regarded simply as a Galilean peasant.

Taken Before Pilate

For the reasons already mentioned, they came to the conclusion that it would be necessary to invoke the aid of the Roman power in carrying out this sentence. They thereupon bound Jesus, and led Him away and delivered Him up to Pilate, who at this time probably occupied, while in Jerusalem, the magnificent palace built by Herod the Great. Jesus was taken into the judgment hall of the palace or Pretorium; His accusers, unwilling to defile themselves by entering into a heathen house and thereby rendering themselves unfit to eat the Passover, remained outside upon the marble pavement.

The proceedings thus begun were conducted under a system entirely different from that which we have thus far been considering, both in its nature and its administration. The Jewish law was apart of the religion, and in its growth and development was administered in important cases by a large body of trained men, who were obliged to follow strictly a well-defined procedure. The Roman law, on the other hand, had its origin and growth under the stern and manly virtues and the love of justice which characterized republican Rome, and it still jealously guarded the rights and privileges of Roman citizens, even in a conquered province. Striking illustrations of this truth are found in the life of Paul (see Acts 16:35-39; 22:24-29; 25:10-12). The lives and fortunes of the natives in an imperial province like Judea may be said to have been almost completely at the mercy of the Roman procurator or governor, who was responsible to his imperial master alone, and not even to the Roman senate.

Pilate therefore was well within the mark when, at a later stage of the trial, being irritated at Jesus remaining silent when questioned by him, he petulantly exclaimed: "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to release thee, and have power to crucify thee?" (John 19:10). While, however, the procurator was not compelled in such cases to adhere strictly to the prescribed procedure, and had a wide discretion, he was not allowed to violate or depart from the established principles of the law. On this occasion, Pilate, respecting the scruples of the chief priests about entering the palace, went outside at their request, apparently leaving Jesus in the Pretorium. He asked them the usual formal question, put at the opening of a Roman trial: "What accusation bring ye against this man?

Perceiving that Pilate would not gratify their desire to have Jesus condemned on the verdict which they had rendered, or for an offense against their own law only, "they began to accuse him, saying, We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king" (Luke 23:2). This was an accusation containing three charges, much like a modern indictment containing three counts. Pilate appears to have been satisfied that there was nothing in the first two of these charges; but the third was too serious to be ignored, especially as it was a direct charge of majestas or treason, the greatest crime known to the Roman law, and as to which the reigning emperor, Tiberius, and his then favorite, Sejanus, were particularly sensitive and jealous. The charges in this case were merely oral, but it would appear to have been in the discretion of the procurator to receive them in this form in the case of one who was not a Roman citizen.

The accusers having been heard, Pilate returned to the Pretorium to examine Jesus regarding the last and serious accusation. The Four Gospels give in the same words the question put to him by Pilate, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" The first three record only the final affirmative answer, "Thou sayest," which if it stood alone might have been taken as a plea of guilty; but John gives the intervening discussion which explains the matter fully. He tells us that Jesus did not answer the question directly, but asked Pilate, "Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning me?" (John 18:34) (apparently not having been outside when the charges were made).

On being told that it came from the chief priests, He went on to explain that His kingdom was not of this world, but was a spiritual kingdom. Being again asked if He was a king, He replied in effect, that He was a king in that sense, and that His subjects were those who were of the truth and heard His voice (John 18:35-37). Pilate, being satisfied with His explanation, "went out again unto the Jews," and apparently having taken Jesus with him, he mounted his judgment seat or movable tribunal, which had been placed upon the tesselated pavement, and pronounced his verdict, "I find in him no fault at all" (John 18:38 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "I find no crime in him").

According to the Roman law, this verdict of acquittal should have ended the trial and at once secured the discharge of Jesus; but instead it brought a volley of fresh accusations to which Jesus made no reply. Pilate hesitated, and hearing a charge that Jesus had begun His treasonable teaching in Galilee, the thought occurred to him that he might escape from his dilemma by sending Jesus for trial to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who was then in Jerusalem for the feast, which he accordingly did (Luke 23:7).

Jesus or Barrabas

On their return, Pilate resumed his place on the judgment seat outside. What followed, however, properly formed no part of the legal trial, as it was a mere travesty upon law as well as upon justice. Pilate resolved to make another attempt to secure the consent of the Jews to the release of Jesus. To this end he summoned not only the chief priests and the rulers, but "the people" as well (Luke 23:13), and after mentioning the failure to prove any of the charges made against Jesus, he reminded them of the custom of releasing at the feast a prisoner selected by them, and offering as a compromise to chastise or scourge Jesus before releasing Him.

At this point Pilate's anxiety to release Jesus was still further increased by the message he received from his wife concerning her disturbing dream about Jesus and warning him to "have .... nothing to do with that righteous man" (Matthew 27:19). Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders were busily engaged in canvassing the multitude to ask for the release of Barabbas, the notable robber, and destroy Jesus (Matthew 27:20). When Pilate urged them to release Jesus, they cried out all together, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas"; and upon a further appeal on behalf of Jesus they cried, "Crucify, crucify him." A third attempt on his part met with no better result (Luke 23:18-23).

The Jews were well aware that Pilate was arbitrary and cruel, but they had also found that he was very sensitive as to anything that might injuriously affect his official position or his standing with his master, the emperor. As a last resort they shouted to him, "If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend: every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar" (John 19:12). The prospect of a charge of his aiding and abetting such a crime as treason, in addition to the other charges that a guilty conscience told him might be brought against him, proved too much for the vacillating procurator. He brought Jesus out, and sat down again upon the judgment seat placed upon the pavement. He made one more appeal, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests gave the hypocritical answer, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). Pilate finally succumbed to their threats and clamor; but took his revenge by placing upon the cross the superscription that was so galling to them, "THE KING OF THE JEWS."

Then occurred the closing scene of the tragedy, recorded only in the First Gospel, when Pilate washed his hands before the multitude (a Jewish custom), saying to them, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man; see ye to it." The reply was that dreadful imprecation, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:24,25).

The Sentence

Pilate resumes his place upon the judgment seat, the fatal sentence at last falls from his lips, and Jesus is delivered up to be crucified. Now, how far were these proceedings in accordance with the Roman law under which they purported to have been taken and conducted? In the first place, Pilate, as procurator, was the proper officer to try the charges brought against Jesus.

This article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.

John James MacLaren

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia