These men took a break from celebrating the Deliverance of God to charge an innocent man with a crime.
They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.
Rome had reserved the right of execution unto herself, forbidding the final act to any but Caesar or his proxy. An on this day of deliverance, this celebration of the end of slavery, these leaders of Israel clamor to wear the shackles of Rome.
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Art thou the King of the Jews?
Pilate, beset by an angry mob at his door on the most nationalistic day of the year for this unruly country, does not understand the charge. And so he interrogates the accused.
To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
His fault is in truth-telling, in pointing out the idolatry and greed and complicity of Israel’s leaders, in proclaiming a messianic kingdom in which the last shall be first.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
Pilate’s cynicism is fully revealed: there is no truth. And, yet, he will not murder an innocent, even if deluded, man. So he offers a trade, hoping that the leaders of Israel will return to sacrificing animals and not people.
Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was an insurrectionist.*
But the leaders of Israel reject the deal, preferring instead the release of a messianic pretender, a zealot, a leader of men capable of unseating those complicit with Rome. Jesus was more dangerous.
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
Pilate, hoping to avoid a full-blown rebellion as well as the murder of an innocent man, has Jesus severely beaten and mocked, hoping this is enough to placate God’s shepherds.
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.
Angry now, and speaking from strength (the Roman soldiers awaited his summons), Pilate throws their demands back in their faces. The matter is ended.
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;
Fear seized the prefect’s heart. Jesus is no mere rabble rouser, but a full-blown messianic pretender, a claimant to the throne of King David. Pilate understands the leaders of Israel’s fear—they will be displaced by this man. And so will Pilate.
And Pilate went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
The Powers at work. The state, with the power of coercive force and the threat of death, demands satisfaction.
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.
Pilate’s authority is at once rejected and affirmed; there is a higher power at work. And this is no ordinary man.
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.
And then Pilate discovers that he is caught in the web of the Powers as well. If he lets the pretender go, then he can be accused of abetting a rival to the authority of the Emperor. And he also realizes their desperation, they who in all things reject the authority of Rome invoke it now.
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and he saith unto the Jews, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
The final act, the last movement, the complete abandonment of the God who set them free. No king but Caesar? They have been taken by the Powers and become worshipers of idols.
Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
Death and Hell are thundering over the earth.
Scriptures are taken from John 18 and 19, KJV.
*Most translations use the words “robber” or “bandit” for Barabbas, but really he was a rebel. His name means “son of the Father,” which is a messianic title.