To a man like Pontius Pilate, the Jewish Sanhedrin must have seemed like a ridiculous horde of men. Pilate was the Roman governor appointed by the Roman Caesar, the most powerful man in the world. The Roman Empire had conquered the known world and dominated history for hundreds of years. The nation of Israel seemed like an insignificant smudge on the map. Their religious leaders were every bit as corrupt and power hungry as the men who created the political intrigues of Rome, but with none of the glamour. They were full of their own importance in a nation that seemed totally irrelevant to the rest of the world.
It was easy for the Romans to roll their eyes in contempt, but for Pilate, they posed a real threat. The Jewish leadership had tremendous influence over the people. They could whip the crowds into a rebellious frenzy. The last thing Pilate needed was a report to Rome that he couldn’t maintain his rule.
When the Sanhedrin arrived with Jesus, they refused to step inside the Praetorium. It was the large fortress where the Roman governor lived, and so its land was defiled. If the Jews went inside, they would become ritually unclean. It would disqualify them from celebrating the rest of the Passover. Pilate was sensitive to the religious customs of the Jews, so he went out to meet them. There in front stood Jesus, bound at His hands and feet like a common criminal. His face was beaten with bruises.
What could this simple peasant have possibly done to get these religious leaders into such an outrage, and right at the high point of their highest festival? And why were they bringing Him here?
“‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’” Pilate asked.
“‘If this man were not an evil doer, we would not bring Him to you,’” they exclaimed. “‘We found this Man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King!’”
All of these accusations were false, of course. And they were quite different from the accusations they had declared in their own trial. But Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire did not care who called themselves the Jewish Messiah, and they would never give the death penalty for it. The Jewish leadership was well aware of this, so they made up false accusations that might convince Pilate to put Jesus to death. They were saying that Jesus had declared Himself to be against the powers of the Roman Caesar himself. It seemed like such a ridiculous claim to Pilate that he easily dismissed it. He said, “‘Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own laws.’”
“‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,’” they replied.
Ah. Their true reason for coming was revealed. They wanted to kill this Man in chains. The Romans prided themselves on their commitment to justice, and Pilate knew the religious leaders were not interested in telling him the truth. He would have to find out what was really going on some other way. So he summoned Jesus to come inside the Praetorium with him so they could talk in private.
“‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” he asked. Now even the Roman governor was suggesting that Jesus might be a king!
“‘Are you saying this on your own initiative or did others tell you about Me?’” Jesus replied.
“‘I am not a Jew, am I?’” Pilate said. “‘Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You up to me; what have You done?’”
Isn’t it interesting that Pilate wanted to listen to Jesus more than He wanted to hear what the Jews had to say? He was trying to give the Lord a chance to clear His name apart from the hysteria of the corrupt leadership.
Jesus answered, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’”
Imagine how strange His answer must have sounded to Pilate. He asked Jesus, “‘So you are a King?’”
The Lord told him, “‘You say correctly that I am a King. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’”
“What is the truth?’” Pilate asked.
It was clear to him that this Jesus posed no real threat to the Roman Empire. Rome was full of philosophers and teachers who spent their lives discussing high and lofty ideas, and they were a fairly harmless crowd. Pilate didn’t understand that Jesus actually was the Truth, alive and embodied in human form, and that He had the answers to every sincere question Pilate had ever asked. But Pilate did know that this Man was innocent of anything deserving death. He went back outside to the churning rage of the Sanhedrin and declared, “‘I find not guilt in Him.’”
The chief priests and elders began to harshly accuse Jesus. Imagine their fists and voices raised in violent passion. In the face of their vitriol, the Lord stood in silent, complete composure. He gave them no response. They had no interest in the truth.
Pilate was shocked. He took Jesus back inside and said, “‘Do You make no answer? See how many charges they bring against You!’”
Pilate was standing there, on Jesus’ side, prodding Him to say something so that Pilate could defend Him. But Jesus had already answered Pilate’s questions with the truth, and there was nothing more to say.
Pilate was amazed at Jesus. Against the Lord’s regal, surrendered silence, the religious leaders continued to demand the severest penalty. “‘He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee, even as far as this place.’”
Pilate had a swarming problem before him. He knew these men were lying and that the charges were false, but they weren’t going to let this go. And this Jesus refused to defend Himself. How could he get himself out of this mess?
When he heard that Jesus had come down from Galilee, he asked if Jesus was actually a Galilean. For you see, Herod Antipas was the ruler appointed by Rome to that region to the north, so perhaps Pontius could give the case to him. Let Herod handle this mess instead!
Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus over to him. Herod was glad to have Jesus come. He had heard all about the miracles and wanted Jesus would perform some kind of sign for him. This Herod was used to keeping people on a string, like puppets that were made to thrill him. He had once promised half his kingdom to his young step-daughter because she delighted his guests with her dancing. Her horrible request was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. King Herod lacked the courage to refuse such a revolting request, and so the cousin of Jesus was put to death that very day.
It is interesting to consider how Jesus responded to each person that the Father brought along His path.
To those who came to Him with the smallest amounts of faith, He brought miracles and messages of truth.
To those who continued to stand with Him in faith, like the disciples or Nicodemas or Martha and Mary, He gave deeper and deeper revelations about the mysteries of God.
Jesus answered Pilate’s questions with dignity and respect, sharing secrets about His high, eternal kingdom to a man who understood vast levels of authority and rule in the world.
To the hard-hearted religious leaders of God’s own people, Jesus had come again and again with opportunities to repent and be transformed. Even as they were putting Him on trial to kill Him, He explained that the reason He wasn’t giving answers was because they wouldn’t listen. Even that little explanation provided a crack in the door for any of the leaders who might want to change their minds. .
Jesus met each person at the place of their need and offered Himself in the ways they were ready understand, drawing each along as far as the Spirit led Him to go. Even His rebukes were a mercy, because they were the warnings of a compassionate God.
It is interesting to see that when the Lord was brought before Herod, Jesus offered nothing but stone cold silence.
The religious leaders had come along to Herod’s to make their accusations and demands. Herod had no great affection for them. They had spent many long years in mutual contempt for each other. Instead, he turned to Jesus with question after question, but Jesus had nothing to say. The Son of God would not allow the power and truth of God to be used by this despicable man for his own entertainment. As Herod realized he had no sway with Jesus, his fascination turned to derision. He would find another way to entertain himself with this wandering preacher. He and the soldiers with him began to mock the Lord. They took a beautiful robe, fit for a king, and fastened it around Jesus’ shoulders, belittling any claims that this carpenter was fit for royal power. Then they sent Him back to Pilate.
Up to that point, there had been a quiet hostility between Herod and Pilate. But as they both faced the sneering Jewish leaders against the silent Preacher, they found common ground. They were both repulsed by the Sanhedrin, and yet both failed to bow their knees when the true King came. From that day on, they were friends.