From this title, taken from Jesus’ words in Mark 10:33–34, it is clear that he knew in detail what would befall him in Jerusalem at the hands of Jew and Gentile.

Caiaphas had obtained the confession from Jesus that he was the Son of God, Israel’s King, which he could use to persuade Pilate, should there be any equivocation on his part.

Our Lord had seen and heard the vociferous denials of Peter, his words of warning being fulfilled to the letter: “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.” The cock’s crow registered upon his conscience, he glanced at his Lord, who turned and looked upon him. Guilt-ridden and with scalding tears running down his cheeks, Peter went out into the cold night (Luke 22:55-62; Mark 14:66–72).

Judas, too, convicted of the enormity of his crime returned with his ill-gotten gains. He proclaimed his own guilt and became his own executioner – a tragic figure; truly “it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24; 27:3–10).

Delivered to the Gentiles

On the 14th of Abib at sunrise there was the formal meeting of the whole Sanhedrin. Mark tells us that then they bound Jesus and carried him away and delivered him to Pilate (15:1; cp Isa 53:7). It is a tragic spectacle – Jesus in chains being taken to the Roman Praetorium, situated near Herod’s palatial residence. The leaders of the Jews were bringing their Messiah to a Gentile, seeking his assent to put him to death! They were drinking to the full the cup of wickedness, little realising that they were leading their own nation to its crucifixion. History has produced no more terrible hour. Not wanting to be “defiled” that they might eat the Passover, the Jews would not enter the judgment-hall! (John 18:28). Little did they realise that they were about to condemn the one who was truly holy, harmless and undefiled; who was the true Passover Lamb of which all others were but types! Such were the ironies, the paradoxes of these remarkable proceedings.

It is likely that Pilate had already been informed that an early morning request would be made concerning a dangerous prisoner who was liable to incite rebellion. The Jewish rulers would seek his early ratification of the death sentence before the Passover crowds became aware. Anxious to improve his faltering standing with the Jews and Rome, he may have implied cooperation. But in his initial interview with the prisoner he changed his mind. As he looked at the man, his serene and calm deportment, though lacerated and blood-spattered, his clothes filthy and torn, he knew he could not ‘cooperate’. And what he was soon to hear from Jesus would confirm his decision not to cooperate.

Without the judgment hall crowds began to gather, some from the residence of Caiaphas, aware of the situation and anxious to implement the plan; while others, worshippers, were drawn by the commotion. Pilate went out and asked the Jews what accusation they brought against the prisoner (John 18:29). This was a surprise as it was expected that Pilate would ‘rubber-stamp’ their decision. It now became clear that the Roman trial would take its prescribed course: accusation, trial and verdict.

The Jews’ reply to Pilate’s question showed their dismay: “If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee” (v30). Pilate’s response is interesting as it implies there was a lack of justice: “Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.” He knew that it was “for envy they had delivered him” (Matt 27:18); it was clearly not a capital case so they should judge him. But the Jews wanted Roman complicity in the killing of one so heralded by the common people. The Jews, exasperated, professed it was not lawful for them to pass the death sentence on any man (John 18:31). John saw in this the fulfilment of Jesus’ words: he would be “lifted up” (v32; 3:14; 8:28; 12:32), or crucified, the Roman way.

After the first shock, the more astute minds were reassessing the new reality and they formulated charges against Jesus: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2).

A good confession before Pilate

The question “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) presupposes knowledge of the accusations of Luke 23:2. It appears that the governor received an urgent message from his wife, Procula, as he sat down in the judgment seat: “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matt 27:19). Perhaps Pilate had told her of the unexpected late visit of the priests, which may have occasioned her dreams. Her mysterious, urgent message would no doubt make him more determined that justice must be done.

Pilate’s question, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” implies that appearances belied the charge: apart from the dignity, all the other adjuncts of royalty were missing! In reality it was a solemn moment for the governor; he was standing before the coming king of all the earth!

Jesus’ response is telling: “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (John18:34). It is more than an enquiry as it directs attention to the source of the proceeding events, so fixing the blame in the right quarter, the Jews – their sin was greater. Pilate dissociated himself from the accusation and made it clear that it originated in Jesus’ nation and its rulers. He then asked, “What hast thou done?” (v35). Jesus then made his “good confession”. He witnessed to the great coming truth: “My kingdom is not of this world [cosmos, arrangement]: 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 hence” (v36). Our Lord explained his kingdom’s relationship to Roman law – it did not belong to that order, it did not derive its power by human prowess but was of divine origin. He explained that at this time there was no conflict with Rome, that he was no rival to Caesar.

In his incredulity, Pilate put the question again to Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” How could divine rule on earth come about through a man who was a prisoner? Jesus again made a strong afirmation and virtually offered himself to the cross: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth [cp 1 Tim 6:13]. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (v37). The truth involved the fact of his kingship! His death would not end his work but be the foundation upon which it would be built.

Jesus’ claim sounded absurd to Pilate, belonging to the realm of fiction not fact. Half-pitying he exclaimed, “What is truth?” He had been drawn into conducting a trial he could not comprehend. It was not proving to be the simple ratification of the decision the Jews had reached. Without waiting for an answer he pronounced his verdict, “I find in him no fault at all” (v38). This provoked howls of rage from all quarters; including the people, who had been stirred up by the chief priests. They charged Jesus with stirring up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 23:5). When Pilate learned that he was a Galilean he was relieved, he temporised, he would buy time by sending him to Herod in the adjacent building. Was there the thought, too, that this might improve their unhappy relations?

Vacillation: a fatal mistake

Pilate wavered and was lost from that moment. He became a tool in the hands of the Jews and no amount of struggling would save him. The trial was effectively over with his verdict of innocence, but under pressure he had re-opened the trial. He showed weakness, that he could be moved. Sending Jesus to Herod was the first of six vacillations that finally saw Jesus led away to be crucified.

Before Herod (Luke 23:8–12)

Herod has been described as pleasure-seeking and irresponsible, sceptical and superstitious. Called by the Lord “that fox,” he had sanctioned the beheading of the ‘forerunner,’ and was lacking redeeming qualities. Debauched, he had surrounded himself with flatterers who pandered to his ego and shared his vices. His curiosity had been ignited by reports of Jesus’ miracles which he wanted to witness. Now the opportunity had come and he was delighted to see him at last. With the prisoner before him, and leaning back on his throne he directed question after question to Jesus, but there was no reply. Silence also met the vehement accusations of the Jews who had come to ensure the outcome they desired.

Piqued by Jesus’ failure to respond Herod resorted to mockery. He claimed to be a king – then he would make him one! They arrayed Jesus in a resplendent robe, mocked him and sent him back to Pilate. Can we picture our beloved Lord wearily retracing his steps, many hours having now passed since he had last slept.

Back before Pilate

We learn that Herod and Pilate were now made friends; that Herod confirmed Pilate’s verdict of innocence and that he resolved to chastise Jesus and release him according to the custom of the feast. This offer was met with howls of protest from all, “Not this man but Barabbas,” (John18:40), who we are informed was convicted of murder and sedition (Luke 23:19). Spurred on by the chief priests, they “desired a murderer to be granted unto them; and killed the Prince of life” (Acts 3:14–15); a life-taker instead of a life-giver!

For the second time Pilate had vacillated. In obtaining the release of Barabbas the Jews had reason to believe that they had won the day. This is implied in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, that upon this decision Jesus was delivered to be crucified (cp Mark 15:15). Only John elaborates what took place immediately hereafter.

Scourged and mocked (Mark 15:16–19)

John puts it simply: “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him” (19:1). Pilate showed that he was willing to mangle an innocent victim! Our Lord was subjected to the unrestrained brutality of men. Scourging was the first and normal preliminary to crucifixion. He was stripped naked publicly, made to kneel with his hands tied to the base of a pillar. Using a knotted bludgeon many blows were inflicted on his bare back by a strong man, blows which tore the flesh and drew blood. One can hardly bear to imagine the agony and yet we are involved, for it is “with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5). It was an enormous price to pay, this demonstration that the flesh profits nothing, this upholding of his Father’s righteousness. Often scourging in itself brought death, but our Lord survived only to undergo more terrible sufferings.

Mark tells us that the soldiers led him away into the Praetorium and that they called together the whole band, their comrades. It was their fun time with the doomed prisoner. The priests had their turn to show their contempt for his Messiahship; now the Gentiles, Pilate and his soldiers, would complete the mockery. They clothed him in the imperial purple, and placed on his head a crown of thorns – a symbol of sin from the beginning, providing us with another dimension to the words, ‘he was made sin for us’. With scorn they saluted him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” – a parody of “Ave [Hail] Caesar”. They then smote him on the head with their hands and a reed, spat upon him, and bowed down and ‘worshipped’ after him.

The final scene

Today, three metres below Via Dolorosa and beneath a church, is the Roman courtyard of the tower of Antonia. In this fortress Pilate sat in judgment on Jesus. It was to this pavement (John 19:13) that he brought his chair to pronounce sentence, out of respect for the scruples of the Jews who would not enter lest they be defiled. On these stones can be seen today scratches made by the Roman soldiers for their gambling games when off duty. Among them is the ‘King Game’ – there is a crude representation of a crown, a life-line running through a series of rooms until it is cut abruptly with a sword. It illustrates the mentality of those whose crude hands laid hold of our Lord.

Pilate declared to the Jews, “Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him” (John 19:4). As Jesus appeared, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said, “Behold the man!” It appeared that even he felt a surge of pity in his hardened soul, as he appealed to their humanity (v5). We need to “behold the man”, too, “his visage so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa 52:14). Truly he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ”, certainly no disputant of Caesar’s throne!

But there was no pity in the Jews; they cried out the more, “Crucify him, crucify him”. Pilate was distraught. He was almost beaten. He told them, “Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him” (John 19:6). In fact they could not crucify him – only Rome could convict and execute.

Bound to respect the law of a subservient nation, Pilate heard their words, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (v7). The effect of this charge upon Pilate was fear: “he was the more afraid” (v8). There was his wife’s dream, the calm deportment of the prisoner throughout his terrible punishments and now the claim to be the Son of God! He returned to the judgment hall and asked Jesus, “Whence art thou?” There was no response. This amazed Pilate and he pointed out to Jesus that he was the one who had power to crucify or release him (v10). Jesus lifted the conversation to a new level, instructing Pilate that he was but a puppet in greater hands, that the power he had was “from above”, that the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men (Dan 4:17,25; note also Dan 8:11,25) and the Gentiles were arbitrary instruments in God’s hands to do His will. The Jews, however, were in a completely different position because they knew the will of God and their actions therefore were inexcusable. For this reason their sin was greater (v11).

Pilate was impressed with Jesus’ reply and made further endeavours to release him. But the Jews soon touched a nerve, crying out, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (v12). The Jews played upon his fears. If he let this man go, if he was prepared to protect one accused of treason, he was liable to the same charge! His position was in jeopardy; he too was a prisoner! Slowly it dawned on him that he could only save himself by crucifying Jesus.

Yet he would still persist in his futile endeavours. About the sixth hour (6am), on the preparation of the Passover, Pilate appealed to the Jews, “Behold your King!” (v14), only to be met with the words “Away with him, away with him, crucify him.”

There was one final plea, “Shall I crucify your King?” to which the reply came, “We have no king but Caesar” (v15). Pilate could not endure their persistent challenge to his loyalty to Caesar and capitulated: “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified” (v16).

Pilate Takes water (Matthew 27:24–25)

Matthew tells us about Pilate’s attempt to absolve himself from the crime which his weakness had permitted. Seeing that he could not prevail, he took water and washed himself before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it”. It was a pathetic gesture. But the stain of sin cannot be so easily removed. In fact it can be removed, but only by Jesus’ blood, which was about to be shed, the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins.

There were others happy to accept his guilt: “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” It was an awful prophecy: during the last nineteen centuries they have ‘received at the Lord’s hand double for all their sins.’

Conclusion

We have considered the indignities, the humiliation and horrific sufferings of the Son of God as he drank the cup of suffering appointed by his Father. We stand in awe of his serenity, his composure, how he was able to subjugate his will and feelings to the will of his Father. And yet there is more to come. Next we shall summon our courage to behold the extremity of his sufferings as he is taken by cruel hands and crucified and slain.