Tuesday 23 April 2024

Jesus: the Reprieve that Wasn't

The sentence became final. What happens if you look at the four accounts of the moment, and compare them?

Do they tell the same story, even without being identical?

In this post I am examining the four accounts of the critical moment when Jesus became a “dead man walking”. We might compare and contrast? It would probably be more helpful to see them side-by-side, as in picture? (The following are ordered non-traditionally; by word count, apart from Luke's addition.) BTW: BlueLetterBible.org allows the reader to single click from one account to another.

It is only to be expected that there will be a great deal of common ground between the four. I am reproducing the parallel passages from a single (conservative) translation. 

Then the entire assembly of them set out and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to bring charges against Him, saying, “We found this Man misleading our nation and forbidding us to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is [fn]Christ, a King.” Now Pilate asked Him, saying, “So You are the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.” But Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no grounds for charges in the case of this Man.”…..

Now Pilate summoned to himself the chief priests, the [fn]rulers, and the people, and he said to them, “You brought this Man to me on the ground that He is inciting the people to revolt; and behold, after examining Him before you, I have found no basis at all in the case of this Man for the charges which you are bringing against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. Therefore I will [fn]punish Him and release Him.” [[fn]Now he was obligated to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]
But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas!” (He was one who had been thrown into prison for a revolt that took place in the city, and for murder.) But Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on crying out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” And he said to them a third time, “Why, what has this Man done wrong? I have found [fn]in His case no grounds for a sentence of death; therefore I will [fn]punish Him and release Him.” But they were insistent, with loud voices, demanding that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail. And so Pilate decided to have their demand carried out. And he released the man for whom they were asking, who had been thrown into prison for a revolt and murder; but he handed Jesus over to their will (Luke 23:1-4; 13-25, NASB20).

Luke alone records some specifics of the allegations the Sanhedrin (Council) members used against Jesus. Pilate attempted to involve his contemporary, Herod. Pilate himself had considered the allegation (stirring a revolt against Rome and the taxes) and rejected it as baseless. The was no crime here; not on the part of Jesus. 

It must have been some time later that Pilate summoned Jesus’ accusers to inform them Herod had declined to take action. Whom was he telling? Chief priest, rulers, and “the people”? Representative top authorities of the Jewish nation, probably the majority of those authorities, had made the accusation. (There were members of the Jewish Council who followed Jesus.) Hardly could such a charge be laid by “the people”. Then, what was Luke describing?
Other people were present, people who could be a mob repeatedly howling for crucifixion. I imagine the angry (jealous) hierarchy reacted to the Governor’s summons by gathering up a “crowd”.
Pilate’s judgement had been that, as a concession to them, he intended to punish Jesus, and then let him go. (Punish? Presumably for being accused and upsetting the elite.)
The wonder here is that Pilate showed any reluctance to apply the final solution. Three times! What was another Jewish peasant to him? No one was advocating for Jesus. Nonetheless, Luke wants us to know that Pilate had a definite intention - to release, but his prior purpose was keeping things orderly in that volatile city. Perhaps the Governor thought the “people” would have favoured Jesus - there had been evidence of popular support in the preceding period. Luke lets us know that the notorious prisoner, (?Jesus) Barabbas had participated in a Jerusalem revolt and was identified as a murderer [perhaps of soldier(s) - but that seems unlikely to me]. Surely Pilate had been ready to crucify that man! (Perhaps Pilate had been holding Barabbas to extract information from him?)

Jesus was "handed over". By Pilate exercising his power, “their will” was done. All four tell us Jesus was handed over - I take it as being to Pilate's soldiers, with his authorisation to execute the prisoner. The Governor retained authority in the use of force, as shown in his deliberately offensive sign (John, below). As we have seen before, Jesus knew it would "end" in this way.

Now Mark’s compressed account:

Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders, scribes, and the entire [fn]Council immediately held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led Him away, and turned Him over to Pilate.
Pilate questioned Him: “So You are the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” And the chief priests started accusing Him [fn]of many things. But Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You offer nothing in answer? See how many charges they are bringing against You!” But Jesus said nothing further in answer, so Pilate was amazed.
Now at the Passover Feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. And the one named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the rebels who had committed murder in the revolt. And the crowd went up and began asking Pilate to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. And responding again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted [fn]back, “Crucify Him!” But Pilate said to them, “Why, what [fn]evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” Intent on satisfying the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified (Mark 15:1-15, NASB20).

Mark makes it clear that Jesus was faced by his accusers as he stood before Pilate. The Governor must have expected Jesus to speak in his own defence; to do more than to agree with the harmless(!) title of king of the Judaeans. Pilate somehow knew the truth but he was surprised that Jesus offered no argument. The accusers were from the hierarchy of the Jewish nation (no crowd then). However, the crowd had a role - they had to ask for the right person to be released. That was orchestrated, and it was so. They had been roused and only one voice could be heard. I wonder if the priests stood silently by…?

Consider John’s account:

And then Pilate came out again and *said to them, “See, I am bringing Him out to you so that you will know that I find no grounds at all for charges in [fn]His case.” Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate *said to them, “Behold, the Man!” So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they shouted, saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate *said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him; for I find no grounds for charges in [fn]His case!” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die, because He made Himself out to be the Son of God!”
Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered the [fn]Praetorium again and *said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate *said to Him, “Are you not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority [fn]over Me at all, if it had not been given to you from above; for this reason the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin.” As a result of this, Pilate [fn]made efforts to release Him; but the Jews shouted, saying, “If you release this Man, you are not a friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king [fn]opposes Caesar!”
Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called [fn]The Pavement—but in [fn]Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the [fn]sixth hour. And he *said to the Jews, “Look, your King!” So they shouted, “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 except Caesar.” So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified (John 19:4-16, NASB20).

John gives the precise location - no longer extant. Pilate carried out his plan to have Jesus punished. The soldiers took their opportunity and Jesus was exhibited as a mocked “king”. How did Pilate expect the viewers to see that Jesus was innocent? Or did he? Was he actually showing the bankruptcy of the whole business, and the irrelevance of their ancient nation? (This appears to have happened before the final hand-over of Jesus.)
John alone records that there was a disturbance in Pilate’s calm confidence when he heard about Jesus’ underlying claim. “Son of God”? One thing to execute a peasant; another thing to get involved in something connected to the gods.
Jesus’ response was no help to him, because he would not accept it. It was vital for the Governor to be esteemed by the Caesar; he had clear priorities, even if for a time they wobbled a bit. John makes it clear that it was the elite who bound themselves to Caesar; they would speak on behalf of their nation. 

And there is Matthew’s account:

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “So You are 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 did not offer any answer. Then Pilate *said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they are testifying against You?” And still He did not answer him in regard to even a single [fn]charge, so the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the Passover Feast the governor was accustomed to release for the [fn]people any one prisoner whom they wanted. And at that time they were holding a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when the people 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 it was because of envy that [fn]they had handed Him over.
And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “See that you have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for [fn]last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. And the governor [fn]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, “[fn]Crucify Him!” But he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” Yet they kept shouting all the more, saying, “[fn]Crucify Him!”
Now 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 crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; you yourselves shall see.” And all the people replied, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas [fn]for them; but after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified (Matthew 27:11-26, NASB20).
Matthew alone reports that Pilate’s wife had interrupted proceedings with an alarming message. That must have been an unusual occurrence. (I wonder who heard besides Pilate?) Perhaps this contributed to Pilate continuing with a “lost cause”?

The Governor, Pilate, may have had a clear objective when Jesus first appeared before him early on that day. (That appearance must have been arranged.) The actions of Pilate may have been intended to drive a wedge between hierarchy and people. In any case he conveyed his contempt for the elite and their people, finally in the multilingual sign he posted on the cross. It was a deliberately offensive sign to them.  Now Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written: “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in [fn]Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; rather, write that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:19-22, NASB20).

It is made clear that Jesus took his final walk in his own clothes. Maybe the soldiers left the crown of thorns of his head - that is not stated. Certainly it fits with the picture of Roman contempt for “these people”. The sign over Jesus' head would mock him as their king, and mock them, as being worthy of such a king and being powerless to have the sign changed. The elite could think themselves cleverly and neatly rid of the disturber from Nazareth. The Governor may have been troubled, but he could think he had demonstrated his authority and displayed their insignificance.
Jesus, and those who followed him and represented him, saw it differently.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB20) are taken from New American Standard Bible. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission. www.lockman.org

Bible passages courtesy BlueLetterBible.org

No comments: