Second Trial Before Pilate: A Chronological Harmony

Second Trial Before Pilate

Pilate’s Judgment (Luke 23:13-16)

            Pilate gathered the leading Jews and announced that the accusation that they had brought, that Jesus was misleading the people into rebellion, was unsupported. He found no fault in Jesus nor did Herod. He found no reason to sentence him to death.

            But Pilate desires to keep the Jews happy, so he offers to have Jesus whipped before he is released. Even the offer demonstrates the corruption of justice because Pilate is willing to scourge a man whom he just declared to be innocent of the charges brought against him.

Offer to Release Barabbas or Jesus (Matthew 27:15-18; Mark 15:6-11; Luke 23:17-19; John 18:39-40)

            The Romans had a custom of releasing one man before the Sabbath. The crowds gathering began calling for him to continue the tradition this year.

            Since Pilate wanted to release Jesus, he offers the Jews two choices. He selects a man named Barabbas, a terrorist, thief, and leader of a rebellion who was being held on murder charges. Pilate thought that Barabbas was so evil that the Jews would easily prefer Jesus over Barabbas. He knew that Jesus was brought to him because of their envy and not because Jesus had done anything wrong. But he also tweaked the Jews by asking if they want him to release their king. To his surprise the Jews called out that they wanted Barabbas released, the crowd being encouraged in that selection by the leading Jews.

Warning from Pilate’s Wife (Matthew 27:19)

            About this time Pilate’s wife sent him a message, warning him not have anything to do with the just man. She had been having nightmares concerning him. Many Romans during this time, including the emperors, saw dreams as being messages of the gods’ will.

Demand that Jesus be Crucified (Matthew 27:20-23; Mark 15:12-14; Luke 23:20-23)

            Asking again who should be released, the crowd again called for Barabbas. Pilate then asked what they wanted done with Jesus and the response was “Let him be crucified!”

            This shocked Pilate. His wished to release Jesus. He asked them why. What had Jesus done to deserve a sentence of crucifixion. Pilate again stated that he would have Jesus scourged and then released. But the crowd yelled all the more, being stirred up by the leading Jews, that Jesus should be crucified.

Sentenced and Scourged (Matthew 27:24-30; Mark 15:15-19; John 19:1-3)

            Unable to convince the crowd to do as he wanted, Pilate resolved to stand aside. Calling for a bowl of water, he washed his hands, and declared that he is innocent of this just man’s blood. This is an old custom that the Romans also kept, see Deuteronomy 21:6-9 and Psalms 26:6. He turned the matter over to the crowd, who gladly accepted responsibility. They cried out that his death would be upon them and their children. Here too the crowd violated justice in both accepting responsibility for an innocent man’s death and, worse, included their children in the responsibility for their own deeds. In doing so, they are saying that if they are wrong in their demand for Jesus’ death, then they and their children would suffer the consequences of their actions – which eventually did happen when Jerusalem fell.

            Barabbas was released as the crowd demanded.

            Pilate then carried out his threat of scourging and ordered Jesus crucified thereafter. By doing so, Pilate nullified his declaration of innocence. As a governing official it was his duty to release and protect the innocent. He supported Jesus’ unjust death and thus made himself just as guilty as the Jews who demanded it. The scourging was customarily a part of Roman crucifixion as it increased the suffering of the person hung on a cross.

            The soldiers were not content with just the scourging. Matthew mentions that the whole band, which would be about 400 to 600 soldiers were involved. They made a mockery of Jesus, stripping him of his clothing, placing a crown woven from thorns on his head and put a purple robe on him. They hailed him as the king of the Jews and then proceeded to strike him. They struck him on the head with a reed, driving the thrones into his scalp, hit him with their hands, and spat on him. The Romans had no love for the Jews and they found this brutality an amusing way to strike back where they could not.

Pilate Tries to Release Jesus with Just the Scourging (John 19:4-11)

            Bringing Jesus back out of Praetorium, Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd still wearing the crown of thorns and the scarlet robe. It is possible that Pilate still held hopes of getting Jesus released. Perhaps seeing that Jesus was beaten and mocked sufficiently would satisfy the crowd’s the thirst for blood. Again he declared that Jesus was found innocent.

            But if that was his hope, it failed because upon seeing Jesus the crowd yelled all the more for his death. Pilate was disgusted with the whole matter and told the crowd to take Jesus and crucify him themselves. He as a judge finds the man innocent, but if they are so superior to him, they should do it themselves and proceed without this judge. If they insist on doing this, it will be without authority. But the leading Jews objected pointing that according to their laws a person who makes himself out to be a son of God must be put to death. In this they lied. Their law demanded the death of someone who blasphemed (Leviticus 24:16), but it was they who decided that claiming to be the son of God was blasphemous. But notice that they changed the charge against Jesus yet again. The Jews realized they could not get Pilate to agree to the charge of sedition, so they switched to the one they actually made against Jesus in their own trials.

            This charge actually scared Pilate. The many small things which happened during the day, Jesus declaration that he was a spiritual king, his unnatural calmness, and his wife’s nightmares, suddenly took on significance. The Greeks and the Romans had stories of gods coming among men and now Pilate feared he was being set up to move against a god.

            Pilate when back into the hall and demanded that Jesus tell him where he was from. But Jesus remained silent. Jesus had already told Pilate, but Pilate had at that time dismissed it. Not answering the question again did not give Pilate a chance to argue that it could not be true.

            Pilate is not accustomed to prisoners not answering his demands. He points out that he had the power to have him crucified or released. By this statement he condemns himself because he has declared repeatedly that Jesus was innocent, but never released him and had him scourged. Though he said he would release Jesus, he allowed himself to be manipulated by the threat of a riot. For a man who claimed power, he did not act that way.

            Jesus finally does speak, only to point out that Pilate’s power only exists because God gave it to him (Romans 13:1). Thus Pilate is not the ultimate power, but is answerable to the One who granted him his authority. The one who turned Jesus over to Pilate, which would be Caiaphas, had the greater sin. Both Pilate and Caiaphas were abusing their authority, but Caiaphas, who is pushing Pilate against his will, is the one steeper in sin (Psalm 75:6-7).

Pilate Forced to Yield to the Jews’ Demands (Luke 23:24-25; John 19:12-15)

            Pilate again returned to the crowd and the Jewish leaders, more determined to release Jesus. But the Jewish leaders pulled their trump card. They told Pilate that if he released Jesus, a man who claims to be a king, they will notify Caesar and he won’t be happy. Caesar will see anyone claiming to be a king to be his enemy.

            Pilate was politically motivated. He saw how the Jews could twist events to ruin his career, so he brought Jesus out, sat on the judgment seat, and gave the Jews one more strike. It was about noon on the day before the Passover, by Jewish reckoning. The Jews claimed they wanted Jesus crucified for being a king, so Pilate introduces Jesus to the crowd as their king.

            But the Jews wanted nothing to do with Jesus being king over them. They cried out that Jesus should be crucified. Pilate turned to the leading Jews and mockingly asked, “You want me to crucify your king?” The leading Jews replied that they had no king but Caesar.

            In this exchange, Pilate extracted what the Romans wanted out of the Jews – an acknowledgment and acceptance of the Roman rule over them. The Jews had backed Pilate into a corner, but he had forced them into one of their own at the same time. The Jews had repeated the error of their ancestors when they rejected God as their king (I Samuel 12:12). Long had the Jews looked for the Messiah to come and free them from Roman rule and now that he was before them, the Jews rejected him and declared that Roman was the only ruler they wanted. Jesus had warned them what their choice would lead to (Luke 19:41-44).