By Tyson Thorne

October 9, 2019

John 51 Large

Up to this point in the story Jesus had been dealing with Temple authorities. While they arrested him, hurled insults at him and struck him once on the face for apparent disrespect of the high priest, they appeared to be powerless to do much more. You will hear from some Christians that the Jews could not execute Jesus because Rome did not give them authority to practice capital punishment. This isn't exactly true. There are several instances (the adulterous woman, the stoning of Stephen, the stoning of Paul) whereby the Jewish religious leaders certainly behaved as if they could execute their fellow Jews.

I think the stoning of Stephen most clearly indicates that the religious leaders had the right of execution — a right they could extend to others in their employ as we see in the case of Saul (Acts 8.3). If they had the right to kill Jesus, why take him to Pontius Pilate? I believe it was because they needed Jesus to be crucified. After all the miracles he had performed, after all the prophesy he had fulfilled they couldn't risk making Jesus a martyr. They needed to erase him from the memory of the people, and there was only one way to do that.

According to Ravi Zacharias in his treatise entitled The Scandalous Jesus, crucifixion was the most profound punishment one could receive under Roman law. It wasn't only that it was torturous, but it was the highest form of disgrace — yes, disgrace and so much so that the law forbade anyone from saying, writing or in any way communicating the name of a crucified person. They were disowned by their families and friends, and removed from the family tree. If true, this would explain why the religious leaders were so keen on crucifying Jesus. It may also explain the frustration of these same leaders in the first part of Acts with the disciples continuing to teach in Jesus' name. More than once they arrested some of the disciples, flogged them, and warned them not to teach the name of Jesus any longer.

So Jesus is sent to Pilate, the only one who could authorize a crucifixion. And, as fate would have it, Pilate was even in town instead of his palace at Caesarea. Rather than wait until a decent hour, however, the chief priests were anxious to have the trial and verdict announced before the rest of Jerusalem knew what was happening. They rang the bell at the governors mansion early and, it seems, Pontius is already up. This isn't too surprising, he has a number of concerns. Recent missteps have tarnished his reputation in Rome, and his superior and benefactor Sejanus was recently executed for attempting to overthrow the Roman government. Pilate didn't need any trouble, which may be why his treatment of Jesus seems so out of character compared to his reputation as a tyrant.

I think the more he talked to Jesus and the religious leaders the more he became convinced that he was being used. He gave the Jewish authorities every opportunity to handle the matter themselves, then provided Roman options that didn't include killing Jesus, but they were firm in their resolve. When he first started interviewing Jesus (verse 36) Jesus told him his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate didn't understand the implications. He assumed that Jesus was like other's who claimed to be a prophet or messiah serving heaven. When the Pharisees charge Jesus with blasphemy, however, due his claim to be the Son of God Pilate starts getting nervous (19.8) This ups the anxiety level another notch, and he decides to interview Jesus again. Back and forth he goes and, in the end, the Jewish authorities provided him a credible charge (treason) and Pilate gave them what they sought (crucifixion, verse 16).

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