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We read the history of the enormous crime of the heads of the Jewish people at such a distance of time, that we can calmly think over all that was said and done. We are apt to wonder that, while eager to shed innocent blood, they should have stopped to consider that entering into the house of a heathen would defile them ; surely the worse than heathen malice and cruelty that raged within them was a defilement that much more unfitted them for the services of their church.
But man easily mistakes the customs of religion for the spirit of religion, and wrapping himself in the cloak of outward observance, hides within his heart, malice and self-will, and worldliness and pride, as did those Jews, giving them as they did, the names of virtues.
There are many who would not enter certain places, lest they should be defiled; many more who never miss the ordinances of the church, who yet know not their own spirit.
Let us earnestly pray against self-deception. No strictness of outward form will avail, if the heart be not right with God. If the heart be right, the life will be right also. Had these Jews followed the rule of that law, of which they made their boast, they would by it have been held back from the crime into which they were rushing ; but a blinded heart deceived them, so that they called good, evil, and evil, good. Lord, be Thou with us to restrain and to guide, for our notions are like theirs. By Thy Spirit must we be taught.
It was the policy of the Roman government to respect the religion and customs of the different nations over which they ruled; therefore, when Pilate found that according to their notions the chief priests and elders of the people could not on that morning enter his palace,
John xviii. 29. “Pilate then went out unto them and said,
willing submission of a conquered people, striving to uphold their own dignity, and the mixture of power and weakness in the Roman officer who feared the very arm which upheld him. Pilate represented the Roman Emperor in the rule he held over a people whom he despised. None knew better than he the strict account he must render to his master of the difficult task he had to perform, of maintaining his power to the uttermost; yet in such a manner as would least clash with the prejudices, or rouse the passions of the people.*
It is not only interesting, but it is well in every respect, to mark these things, for they add the witness of history to the witness of the Spirit, that speaks in the Christian's heart to the truth of all the details of the trial, and condemnation, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Understanding that the unusual tumult, in the morning of the most sacred feast of the Jews, was caused by the rage
of the Chief Priests against a prisoner whose death they desired, Pilate, as in duty bound, takes up the matter from the beginning, and enquires “What accusation bring ye against the man ?” They replied with their usual haughtiness,
John xvIII. 30. "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.”
They wished to have it understood that this case being one which concerned their religion, could be understood by them better than by him; and therefore that he had nothing to do with the examination, but must take their word for the prisonner's guilt : but the Roman, indignant at the pretence by which they strove to make him the mere executioner of their will, scornfully replied, “Since this is so, and ye have thus settled the matter,"
* Pilate knew that he had already failed in this; and he feared to add to the resentment which was even then fomenting mischief against him, and which in the end caused his disgrace and ruin. This is minutely recorded by Josephus, who little intended to be a witness to the truth of the writers of the New Testament
“Take ye him, and judge him according to
This was but mockery, for the conquered Jews had no power even to try capital offences, far less to condemn to death. Bitterly the Chief Priests and Elders felt the humbling truth ; but their spite against the Holy Jesus was greater than their pride, and they at once made the acknowledgment which Pilate wished to force from them.
Verse 31. “The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death."
And by this acknowledgment they proved the fore-knowledge and truth of Him whose death they sought, for He had foretold all this. His words had been, that He should, after being condemned by them, be by them delivered to the Gentiles, " to mock, to scourge, and to crucify.” Had the Jews been able to put him to death, they would have stoned him according to their law; but the Roman manner of executing criminals was to crucify them. St. John points this out to our attention by adding
Verse 32. “That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die."
And now these men who have been sitting in judgment on the sinless Saviour prove their hypocrisy to the uttermost, and bring the guilt of wilful murder on their souls. They give up the holy zeal they had affected when Caiaphas had rent his robes in sign of horror of the pretended blasphemy for which they had all declared Jesus to be "guilty of death ;” and seeing that they have no hope of bringing about his condemnation by the Roman judge, otherwise than by charging him with a crime against the Roman law,
LUKE xxiii. 2. “ They began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, saying that he himself is Christ a King."
What a calumny! How bare-facedly false the accusation ! Jesus forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, when he had answered the Pharisees themselves, in presence of the whole people, by showing them the image of Cæsar upon a Roman piece of money, and saying “Render unto Cæsar that which is Cæsar's.”
The falsehood of the charge mattered not, it directly interested the Roman Government; therefore Pilate the Roman Governor must attend to it; for it was a part of his duty to see that the tribute had all been duly collected.
The second part of their accusation more directly still affected the interests of the Roman Emperor. “ He makes himself to be a King,” the King of Israel. Surely now they have secured Pilate on their side against Jesus.
They-the heads of the Jewish people, whose whole feelings were against the Roman dominion, whose whole desires were to see the kingdom returned to Israel, thus accuse their country-man of giving himself out to be a King. Had he done so, there seems little doubt that they would have been on bis side. Had he indeed stood forth among them as one of earth's heroes, stirring up the people against Rome, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, it is more than probable that they would have joined the people's cry of “Hail! King of the Jews.”
This accusation was one to which Pilate must attend. Jesus had all this time been standing before the multitude with calm dignity, waiting the end. The fury of his enemies moved him not.
Pilate saw that he was no common prisoner, and entering into the judgment-hall be ordered him to be brought there for a private examination. It is written
John xviii. 33. “ Then (when he had heard this last accusation,) Pilate entered into the judgment-hall again, and said unto him. “ Art thou the King of the Jews ? ”
Jesus in His answer bad regard to Pilate's right understanding of the case. The title of King of Israel, which he had never rejected, did not in any way interfere with the Roman's loyalty to his Emperor. To make this clear
Verses 34. “Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?”
Is this accusation brought against me by the Romans or by the Jews ? for its meaning is very different with the one from what it is with the other. Let there be no mistake. Pilate replied to him,
Verse 35. “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation hath delivered thee unto to me : what hast thou done ?”
This is enquiry, not accusation, and in His answer Jesus instructs His judge.
Verse 36. "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world, If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews ; but now is my kingdom not from thence.”
The words of Pilate, and of Jesus, as they spake together, apart from the noise and excitement of the party without, are very striking. The Roman, though an heathen, evidently feels the influence of the presence of Him with whom he is questioning. There is a subdued, and even thoughtful tone in all He says, and the words of Jesus are so clear, so full of weight and meaning, that they satisfy the mind of Pilate that He is guilt.