It wasn’t the best example of Roman justice. The man who would pass the verdict knew him to be innocent.
“I find no basis for a charge against him” (18:38)
“Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” (19:4)
“You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” (19:6)
It would seem a simple case but it had never been about guilt or innocence.
‘Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.’
Jesus was flogged. There is something deeply disturbing about a powerless individual tortured and humiliated. We have seen it in recent wars in the Middle East where prisoners have been badly treated, it rightly causes great anger. The soldiers were unnecessarily cruel; perhaps they saw Jesus as a means of releasing months of pent up frustration. The robe and the crown of thrones designed to mock not just Jesus but the nation. It was unusual for a person to be flogged before being crucified, flogging alone was a terrifying punishment that often led to death. The suspicion is that Pilate ordered it so that the crowd would feel some pity for Jesus. He needn’t have bothered, there was no pity on that dreadful night.
Jesus was vilified by the religious leaders. They knew what they wanted; for Jesus to be crucified and they worked hard to achieve their goal. They were happy to deal with Pilate, they stoked up the crowd, they used political pressure and they were even prepared to say ‘we have no king but Caesar ‘. It’s amazing the lengths to which some will go. There was no compassion just a burning desire to do away with Jesus. It would not have come as any surprise to Jesus; he had said that he would be hated (15:18). He also said that anyone who follows him would be hate as well. We should not be surprised that almost 2,000 years after his death, there are many who hate him today.
Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate. As we have seen already, he knew Jesus was innocent, but he was under pressure. For all of their hatred, the Jewish leaders had made a pragmatic decision;
“You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (11:49-50)
Pilate wanted to spare Jesus and placate the leaders but it was becoming increasingly obvious that was not possible. We can imagine the words; “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar” ringing in his ears. How would that sound to Tiberius the Emperor? The Roman historian Tacitus described how a plot to oust Tiberius by Sejanus in AD31 had been brutally put down. To be known as ‘no friend of Caesar’ was toxic and potentially lethal. Add to that the potential for riot and rebellion in Jerusalem during Passover and I’m sure Pilate felt he had no choice. How did it end up with an innocent man condemned to die? For me, it shows the importance of small decisions. I’m sure no one started out with this evil intension but by the time they had made hundreds of small decisions it’s where they ended up. People who fall into sin rarely jump straight in; they decide to stop reading the Bible, they stop standing as a Christian in work and eventually stop going to Church. Let’s try and get those small decisions right and honour God in the small things.
There is one more thing.
“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
God was in control and Jesus would go to the cross because it was the only way we could be saved. It was prophesied hundreds of years earlier;
‘Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer.’ (Isaiah 53:10)
It was not chaos, it was planned before the world was founded.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
‘You chose the cross with every breath,
The perfect life, the perfect death,
You chose the cross.
A crown of thorns you wore for us,
And crowned us with eternal life,
You chose the cross.
And though your soul was overwhelmed with pain,
Obedient to death you overcame.’ (Martyn Layzell)