Trial of Trials

Matthew 37:11-25

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so that the governor was quite amazed. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the multitude any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they were holding at that time a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up. And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. But the governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.

This is now the second trial of Jesus during a single day–on this day of days. Though quite uncommon, it is not unheard of. I once sat on a jury, we heard a case, passed a judgment and then we were returned to the jury room instead of being dismissed. We were eventually let go that day but were told that the man had another separate charge that we would have had to heard that day, except that he decided to take a plea deal. Nevertheless, being tried in two separate courts, in one day, for the same charge, seems ridiculous; and it was. Nevertheless, we need to see specifically, how ridiculous it was. Then we will ask ourselves, what does this all mean? I am going to give you a little hint, it was not Jesus who was on trial on this day of days.

After Jesus was “tried” and convicted by “his people,” he was “tried” by those who were not his people. The irony is that the one who was not of his people, tried him and tried to release him. But I am getting ahead of myself. Here, we consider the context. “Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’ And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?’ And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so that the governor was quite amazed.”

Jesus is standing before Pilate on trial for his life, having already been convicted by his own people in night-court. While the Jewish people had some autonomy, according to the context, they were not able to put someone to death. Which begs the question; why did they want Jesus to die so much that they colluded with the uncircumcised? Were they not looking for their long-awaited Messiah? Did Jesus not fully fit the bill? Is Matthew 24 beginning to unfold before that generation’s eyes?

We certainly see that Judea was under the thumb of Roman rule, that is why they are in front of Pilate now. It appears that they expected the Messiah to overthrow their oppressors, or; Rome. Yet throughout our year-long journey, considering the context of Matthew, we have seen Jesus fulfill numerous prophecies and not only this but also many miracles, hundreds of healings and other memorable moments including incredible teaching, preaching and prophecy. Yet they desperately desire the death of Jesus. Therefore they bring him to the Roman ruler of the region and make many accusations against Jesus. One of the charges is that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews. Therefore Pilate plainly asked him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”

Jesus affirmed that he was the King of the Jews to Pilate. And considering the context, Pilate could not care less. Pilate doesn’t seemed threatened at all by this, like Herod was at Christ’s birth. Herod slaughtered the young children to try to prevent the King of the Jews from entering his kingdom. But there was another Herod, the ruler of Galilee. Matthew makes no mention of this Herod, called Antipas, but in other gospel accounts Pilate sent Jesus to him, because he was ruler of Galilee and most of the “crimes” of Jesus were done in Galilee. This would have been an unprecedented third trial but Herod refused to try Jesus and kicked him back to Pilate, with a purple robe, possibly explaining why Matthew makes no mention of this. We see, based on the context, that they didn’t see Jesus being the king of the Jews as a threat to their rule. In other words, unlike Pharoah and Herod the Great, Rome doesn’t consider the Jews a threat–arrogance, yet it proves true, as Matthew 24 unfolds to a culmination in 70 AD. Based on the context, Pilate did fear a riot but it was not the riot that he was truly afraid of but Rome finding out that he couldn’t control them, because they were small and Rome was grand. Pilate did not fear Jesus or the Jews but Caesar, himself. The context confirms and examples enlighten this.

John 19:10-15 “Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.’ As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.’ When Pilate therefore heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ They therefore cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’

Pilate doesn’t care if Jesus is their king, neither did they, that is until the chief priests remind him that anyone who claims to be king is opposed to Caeser, at least in their minds. Which is the irony of ironies because they were hoping for a Messiah who would over-throw their oppresor. Notice again what John quoted the Jewish people saying; “We have no king but Caesar.”

John reminds us that it was the preparation day of Passover. Most likely this refers to the day before the Sabbath of Passover. Many scholars debate this but it is quite clear to me. Matthew, in my mind, confirms considering the context, notice: “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the multitude any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they were holding at that time a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’”

Barabbas, according to the context and other accounts, was apparently a very bad man, with a laundry list of charges against him. He was a well known criminal of that time. And each author’s aspiration to his audience is that Jesus was innocent and Barabbas was not. It’s another irony of ironies in this trial of trials on this day of days. The multitudes wanted Barabbas, who was guilty beyond measure, to be released but Jesus, who was innocent beyond measure, they wanted crucified. In another irony of ironies, Jesus, the innocent, takes the place of Barabbas, the guilty, on the cross. But as always, I am getting way ahead of myself.

“Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up. And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.’ But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. But the governor answered and said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’

Notice the context, Pilate, “knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up.” You don’t get to be a ruler of a contested area by being naive. Pilate heard the many charges against Jesus by the chief priests and elders, weighed the testimonies and came to a conclusion concerning the crucifixion of the Christ; “Why, what evil has He done?” That’s a good question. Even Pilate’s wife sent a message to him; “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” Everything seems to indicate that Pilate was going to release Jesus. Luke writes; “And Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. I will therefore punish Him and release Him.’”

Pilate doesn’t have a problem beating and scourging Jesus but crucifixion is reserved for the worst of the worst, such as Barabbas. Pilate is more than hesitant to put Jesus to death. I honestly don’t envy Pilate and the choice he had to make. Nevertheless, as the people acquiesced to the chief priests and elders, yelling for the release of Barabbas, Pilate feared a riot, and sent Jesus to be crucified. In the end, Pilate did what was seemingly good for Pilate. For Pilate, it was more politically expedient for the one to be remanded rather than risk a riot.

“‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ And he said, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’ But they kept shouting all the more, saying, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.”

Make no mistake, while the chief priests and elders had “the greater sin,” Pilate was not innocent of the blood of Jesus, he can symbolically wash his hands all day long, but we consider the context. “And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Claiming one’s innocence doesn’t make it so and actions speak louder than words and a symbolic hand washing. In a hypocrisy of hypocrisies, Pilate claims innocence regarding the blood of Jesus, yet has him beaten and crucified. Yet his is the lesser sin.

“And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer.” Jesus remained silent, as was prophesized by Isaiah, in front of his accusers. Notice what Pilate said about the accusations; “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” The chief priests and elders really laid it on thick. They made many accusations against Jesus and based upon the willingness to admit false testimony in the first trial, we can assume that the same happened during this trial. Nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t answer to a single charge. And we remember that Jesus said no one would take his life but he lays it down for his followers. These followers are now conspicuously absent, as was prophesized by Zechariah and Jesus. The disciples all agreed with Peter, that they would not fall away but were willing to die for Jesus. Yet Matthew makes no mention of them during this second trial. Even the disciples display the hypocrisy of hypocrisies. But the chief priests and elders really take it to another level.

Notice the continuing context of the hypocrisy of hypocrisies from the chief priests and elders of the people; “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death.” As a reminder, the chief priests and elders of the people were the Pharisees of Pharisees and Sadducees of the Sadducees. They were the religious leaders of the Jewish people. Only the high priest was higher. They preformed the sacrifices and taught the Law. Therefore, during Passover they should have been slaughtering sheep instead of crucifying Christ (see the similarities and irony of ironies). With their authority they persuaded the people to have Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Christ. The irony of ironies and hypocrisy of hypocrisies is that they colluded with Rome, their sworn enemy, to release a law-breaker in Barabbas and crucify Christ, the only one who ever fulfilled their Law, all during the Passover. They were more than willing to have the blood of Christ be on their heads and their children’s heads, in an obvious, Old-Testament allusion.

Therefore I ask, who was really on trial? Jesus, loved by his disciples was abandoned by them. Jesus, found not guilty by Pilate, was crucified by his command.  Jesus, accused by the chief priests and elders, didn’t answer them a word. Jesus, had his people cry out, let him be crucified by the persuasion of the chief priests and elders. Who was on trial? Make no mistake, everyone ​except Jesus failed on this day of days with their own hypocrisy of hypocrisies. My own inner Pilate, that desires to wash my hands of this; my inner priests and elders of self-righteousness that says, “you’re right, he’s wrong;” and even my inner disciple, that desires to follow Jesus but flees, all condemned Christ to the cross.

But make no mistake, this day of days is much bigger than my sins or your sins, even though this is the end result; that, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” All the law and all the prophets point forward to Jesus. In an irony of ironies, the Law experts killed the prophets, including Jesus, and Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, the Law, which condemns everyone but Jesus, is put on trial–guilty. Like Barabbas, Jesus took our place, as Paul writes; “when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” We were on trial and Jesus replaced us with Himself. The Law, which was hostile to us, because we cannot follow it, has been filled up by Jesus. That’s the irony of ironies, the only innocent, Law-following man, paid the ultimate price, because he wanted to and because he was the only one who could. The Law could not save anyone, Jesus did. It’s out with the old and in with the New Covenant in his blood. Jesus is the sacrsficed sheep at Passover, once and for all.

 

 

 

 

 

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