The pale grey light had passed into that of early morning, when the Sanhedrists once more assembled in the Palace of Caiaphas. A comparison with the terms in which they who had formed the gathering of the previous night are described will convey the impression, that the number of those present was now increased, and that they who now came belonged to the wisest and most influential of the Council. It is not unreasonable to suppose, that some who would not take part in deliberations which were virtually a judicial murder might, once the resolution was taken, feel in Jewish casuistry absolved from guilt in advising how the informal sentence might best be carried into effect. It was this, and not the question of Christ’s guilt, which formed the subject of deliberation on that early morning. The result of it was to ‘bind’ Jesus and hand Him over as a malefactor to Pilate, with the resolve, if possible, not to frame any definite charge; but, if this became necessary, to lay all the emphasis on the purely political, not the religious aspect of the claims of Jesus.
To us it may seem strange, that they who, in the lowest view of it, had committed so grossly unrighteous, and were now coming on so cruel and bloody a deed, should have been prevented by religious scruples from entering the ‘Prætorium.’ And yet the student of Jewish casuistry will understand it; nay, alas, history and even common observation furnish only too many parallel instances of unscrupulous scrupulosity and unrighteous conscientiousness. Alike conscience and religiousness are only moral tendencies natural to man; whither they tend, must be decided by considerations outside of them: by enlightenment and truth. The ‘Prætorium,’ to which the Jewish leaders, or at least those of them who represented the leaders – for neither Annas nor Caiaphas seems to have been personally present – brought the bound Christ, was (as always in the provinces) the quarters occupied by the Roman Governor. In Cæsarea this was the Palace of Herod, and there St. Paul was afterwards a prisoner. But in Jerusalem there were two such quarters: the fortress Antonia, and the magnificent Palace of Herod at the north-western angle of the Upper City. Although it is impossible to speak with certainty, the balance of probability is entirely in favour of the view that, when Pilate was in Jerusalem with his wife, he occupied the truly royal abode of Herod, and not the fortified barracks of Antonia. From the slope at the eastern angle, opposite the Temple-Mount, where the Palace of Caiaphas stood, up the narrow streets of the Upper City, the melancholy procession wound to the portals of the grand Palace of Herod. It is recorded, that they who brought Him would not themselves enter the portals of the Palace, ‘that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.’
Few expressions have given rise to more earnest controversy than this. On two things at least we can speak with certainty. Entrance into a heathen house did Levitically render impure for that day – that is, till the evening. The fact of such defilement is clearly attested both in the New Testament and in the Mishnah, though its reasons might be various. A person who had so become Levitically unclean was technically called Tebhul Yom (‘bathed of the day’). The other point is, that, to have so become ‘impure’ for the day, would not have disqualified for eating the Paschal Lamb, since the meal was partaken of after the evening, and when a new day had begun. In fact, it is distinctly laid down that the ‘bathed of the day,’ that is, he who had been impure for the day and had bathed in the evening, did partake of the Paschal Supper, and an instance is related, when some soldiers who had guarded the gates of Jerusalem ‘immersed,’ and ate the Paschal Lamb. It follows that those Sanhedrists could not have abstained from entering the Palace of Pilate because by so doing they would have been disqualified for the Paschal Supper.
The argument on the second point is even more unsatisfactory. The defilement from entering the Prætorium, which the Sanhedrists dreaded, might be – or rather, in this case must have been – due to other causes than that the house might contain an abortus or a dead body. And of such many may be conceived, connected either with the suspected presence of an idol in the house or with contact with an idolator. It is, indeed, true that Ohol. xviii. 7 refers to the suspicion of a buried abortus as the cause of regarding the houses of Gentiles as defiled; but even so, it would be too much to suppose that a bare suspicion of this kind would make a man unclean for seven days. For this it would have been necessary that the dead body was actually within the house entered, or that what contained it had been touched. But there is another and weightier consideration. Ohol. xviii. 7 is not so indefinite as Dr. Schürer implies. It contains a most important limitation. In order to make a house thus defiled (from suspicion of an abortus buried in it), it states that the house must have been inhabited by the heathen for forty days, and even so the custody of a Jewish servant or maid would have rendered needless a bediqah, or investigation (to clear the house of suspicion). Evidently, the Prætorium would not have fallen under the category contemplated in Ohol. xviii. 7, even if (which we are not prepared to admit) such a case would have involved a defilement of seven days. Thus Schürer’s argument falls to the ground. Lastly, although the Chagigah could only be brought by the offerer in person, the Paschal Lamb might be brought for another person, and then the tebhul yom partake of it. Thus, if the Sanhedrists had been defiled in the morning they might have eaten the Pascha at night. Dr. Schürer in his brochure repeatedly appeals to Delitzsch (Zeitschr. f. Luther. Theol. 1874, pp. 1-4); but there is nothing in the article of that eminent scholar to bear out the special contention of Schürer, except that he traces the defilement of heathen houses to the cause in Ohal.xviii 7 Delitzsch concludes his paper by pointing to this very case in evidence that the N.T. documents date from the first, and not the second century of our era.
The point is of importance, because many writers have interpreted the expression ‘the Passover’ as referring to the Paschal Supper, and have argued that, according to the Fourth Gospel, our Lord did not on the previous evening partake of the Paschal Lamb, or else that in this respect the account of the Fourth Gospel does not accord with that of the Synoptists. But as, for the reason just stated, it is impossible to refer the expression ‘Passover’ to the Paschal Supper, we have only to inquire whether the term is not also applied to other offerings. And here both the Old Testament and Jewish writings show, that the term Pesach, or ‘Passover,’ was applied not only to the Paschal Lamb, but to all the Passover sacrifices, especially to what was called the Chagigah, or festive offering (from Chag, or Chagag, to bring the festive sacrifice usual at each of the three Great Feasts). According to the express rule (Chag. i. 3) the Chagigah was brought on the first festive Paschal Day. It was offered immediately after the morning-service, and eaten on that day – probably some time before the evening, when, as we shall by-and-by see, another ceremony claimed public attention. We can therefore quite understand that, not on the eve of the Passover but on the first Paschal day, the Sanhedrists would avoid incurring a defilement which, lasting till the evening, would not only have involved them in the inconvenience of Levitical defilement on the first festive day, but have actually prevented their offering on that day the Passover, festive sacrifice, or Chagigah. For, we have these two express rules: that a person could not in Levitical defilement offer the Chagigah; and that the Chagigah could not be offered for a person by some one else who took his place (Jer. Chag. 76 a, lines 16 to 14 from bottom). These considerations and canons seem decisive as regards the views above expressed. There would have been no reason to fear ‘defilement’ on the morning of the Paschal Sacrifice; but entrance into the Prætorium on the morning of the first Passover-day would have rendered it impossible for them to offer the Chagigah, which is also designated by the term Pesach.
It may have been about seven in the morning, probably even earlier, when Pilate went out to those who summoned him to dispense justice. The question which he addressed to them seems to have startled and disconcerted them. Their procedure had been private; it was of the very essence of proceedings at Roman Law that they were in public. Again, the procedure before the Sanhedrists had been in the form of a criminal investigation, while it was of the essence of Roman procedure to enter only on definite accusations. Accordingly, the first question of Pilate was, what accusation they brought against Jesus. The question would come upon them the more unexpectedly, that Pilate must, on the previous evening, have given his consent to the employment of the Roman guard which effected the arrest of Jesus. Their answer displays humiliation, ill-humour, and an attempt at evasion. If He had not been ‘a malefactor,’ they would not have ‘delivered’ Him up! On this vague charge Pilate, in whom we mark throughout a strange reluctance to proceed – perhaps from unwillingness to please the Jews, perhaps from a desire to wound their feelings on the tenderest point, perhaps because restrained by a Higher Hand – refused to proceed. He proposed that the Sanhedrists should try Jesus according to the Jewish Law. This is another important trait, as apparently implying that Pilate had been previously aware both of the peculiar claims of Jesus, and that the action of the Jewish authorities had been determined by ‘envy.’ But, under ordinary circumstances, Pilate would not have wished to hand over a person accused of so grave a charge as that of setting up Messianic claims to the Jewish authorities, to try the case as a merely religious question. Taking this in connection with the other fact, apparently inconsistent with it, that on the previous evening the Governor had given a Roman guard for the arrest of the prisoner, and with this other fact of the dream and warning of Pilate’s wife, a peculiar impression is conveyed to us. We can understand it all, if, on the previous evening, after the Roman guard had been granted, Pilate had spoken of it to his wife, whether because he knew her to be, or because she might be interested in the matter. Tradition has given her the name Procula; while an Apocryphal Gospel describes her as a convert to Judaism; while the Greek Church has actually placed her in the Catalogue of Saints. What if the truth lay between these statements, and Procula had not only been a proselyte, like the wife of a previous Roman Governor, but known about Jesus and spoken of Him to Pilate on that evening? This would best explain his reluctance to condemn Jesus, as well as her dream of Him.
As the Jewish authorities had to decline the Governor’s offer to proceed against Jesus before their own tribunal, on the avowed ground that they had not power to pronounce capital sentence, 23 it now behoved them to formulate a capital charge. This is recorded by St. Luke alone. It was, that Jesus had said, He Himself was Christ a King. It will be noted, that in so saying they falsely imputed to Jesus their own political expectations concerning the Messiah. But even this is not all. They prefaced it by this, that He perverted the nation and forbade to give tribute to Cæsar. The latter charge was so grossly unfounded, that we can only regard it as in their mind a necessary inference from the premiss that He claimed to be King. And, as telling most against Him, they put this first and foremost, treating the inference as if it were a fact – a practice this only too common in controversies, political, religious, or private.
This charge of the Sanhedrists explains what, according to all the Evangelists, passed within the Prætorium. We presume that Christ was within, probably in charge of some guards. The words of the Sanhedrists brought peculiar thoughts of Pilate. He now called Jesus and asked Him: ‘Thou art the King of the Jews?’ There is that mixture of contempt for all that was Jewish, and of that general cynicism which could not believe in the existence of anything higher, we mark a feeling of awe in regard to Christ, even though the feeling may partly have been of superstition. Out of all that the Sanhedrists had said, Pilate took only this, that Jesus claimed to be a King. Christ, Who had not heard the charge of His accusers, now ignored it, in His desire to stretch out salvation even to a Pilate. Not heeding the implied irony, He first put it to Pilate, whether the question – be it criminal charge or inquiry – was his own, or merely the repetition of what His Jewish accusers had told Pilate of Him. The Governor quickly disowned any personal inquiry. How could he raise any such question? he was not a Jew, and the subject had no general interest. Jesus’ own nation and its leader had handed Him over as a criminal: what had He done?
The answer of Pilate left nothing else for Him Who, even in that supreme hour, thought only of others, not of Himself. but to bring before the Roman directly that truth for which his words had given the opening. It was not, as Pilate had implied, a Jewish question: it was one of absolute truth; it concerned all men. The Kingdom of Christ was not of this world at all, either Jewish or Gentile. Had it been otherwise, He would have led His followers to a contest for His claims and aims, and not have become a prisoner of the Jews. One word only in all this struck Pilate. ‘So then a King art Thou!’ He was incapable of apprehending the higher thought and truth. We mark in his words the same mixture of scoffing and misgiving. Pilate was now in no doubt as to the nature of the Kingdom; his exclamation and question applied to the Kingship. That fact Christ would now emphasise in the glory of His Humiliation. He accepted what Pilate said; He adopted his words. But He added to them an appeal, or rather an explanation of His claims, such as a heathen, and a Pilate, could understand. His Kingdom was not of this world, but of that other world which He had come to reveal, and to open to all believers. Here was the truth! His Birth or Incarnation, as the Sent of the Father, and His own voluntary Coming into this world – for both are referred to in His words – had it for their object to testify of the truth concerning that other world, of which was His Kingdom. This was no Jewish-Messianic Kingdom, but one that appealed to all men. And all who had moral affinity to ‘the truth’ would listen to His testimony, and so come to own Him as ‘King.’
But these words struck only a hollow void, as they fell on Pilate. It was not merely cynicism, but utter despair of all that is higher – a moral suicide – which appears in his question: ‘What is truth?’ He had understood Christ, but it was not in him to respond to His appeal. He, whose heart and life had so little kinship to ‘the truth,’ could not sympathise with, though he dimly perceived, the grand aim of Jesus’ Life and Work. But even the question of Pilate seems an admission, an implied homage to Christ. Assuredly, he would not have so opened his inner being to one of the priestly accusers of Jesus.
That man was no rebel, no criminal! They who brought Him were moved by the lowest passions. And so he told them, as he went out, that he found no fault in Him. Then came from the assembled Sanhedrists a perfect hailstorm of accusations. As we picture it to ourselves, all this while the Christ stood near, perhaps behind Pilate, just within the portals of the Prætorium. And to all this clamour of charges He made no reply. It was as if the surging of the wild waves broke far beneath against the base of the rock, which, untouched, reared its head far aloft to the heavens. But as He stood in the calm silence of Majesty, Pilate greatly wondered. Did this Man not even fear death; was He so conscious of innocence, so infinitely superior to those around and against Him, or had He so far conquered Death, that He would not condescend to their words? And why then had He spoken to him of His Kingdom and of that truth?
Fain would he have withdrawn from it all; not that he was moved for absolute truth or by the personal innocence of the Sufferer, but that there was that in the Christ which, perhaps for the first time in his life, had made him reluctant to be unrighteous and unjust. And so, when, amidst these confused cries, he caught the name Galilee as the scene of Jesus’ labours, he gladly seized on what offered the prospect of devolving the responsibility on another. Jesus was a Galilean, and therefore belonged to the jurisdiction of King Herod. To Herod, therefore, who had come for the Feast to Jerusalem, and there occupied the old Maccabean Palace, close to that of the High-Priest, Jesus was now sent.
To St. Luke alone we owe the account of what passed there, as, indeed, of so many traits in this last scene of the terrible drama. The opportunity now offered was welcome to Herod. It was a mark of reconciliation (or might be viewed as such) between himself and the Roman, and in a manner flattering to himself, since the first step had been taken by the Governor, and that, by an almost ostentatious acknowledgement of the rights of the Tetrarch, on which possibly their former feud may have turned. Besides, Herod had long wished to see Jesus, of Whom he had heard so many things. In that hour coarse curiosity, a hope of seeing some magic performances, was the only feeling that moved the Tetrarch. But in vain did he ply Christ with questions. He was as silent to him as formerly against the virulent charges of the Sanhedrists. But a Christ Who would or could do no signs, nor even kindle into the same denunciations as the Baptist, was, to the coarse realism of Antipas, only a helpless figure that might be insulted and scoffed at, as did the Tetrarch and his men of war. And so Jesus was once more sent back to the Prætorium.
It is in the interval during which Jesus was before Herod, or probably soon afterwards, that we place the last weird scene in the life of Judas, recorded by St. Matthew. We infer this from the circumstance, that, on the return of Jesus from Herod, the Sanhedrists do not seem to have been present, since Pilate had to call them together, 32 presumably from the Temple. And here we recall that the Temple was close to the Maccabean Palace. Lastly, the impression left on our minds is, that henceforth the principal part before Pilate was sustained by ‘the people,’ the Priests and Scribes rather instigating them than conducting the case against Jesus. It may therefore well have been, that, when the Sanhedrists went from the Maccabean Palace into the Temple, as might be expected on that day, only a part of them returned to the Prætorium on the summons of Pilate.
But, however that may have been, sufficient had already passed to convince Judas what the end would be. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that he could have deceived himself on this point from the first, however he had failed to realise the fact in its terrible import till after his deed. The words which Jesus had spoken to him in the Garden must have burnt into his soul. He was among the soldiery that fell back at His look. Since then Jesus had been led bound to Annas, to Caiaphas, to the Prætorium, to Herod. Even if Judas had not been present at any of these occasions, and we do not suppose that his conscience had allowed this, all Jerusalem must by that time have been full of the report, probably in even exaggerated form. One thing he saw: that Jesus was condemned. Judas did not ‘repent’ in the Scriptural sense; but ‘a change of mind and feeling’ came over him. 33 Even had Jesus been an ordinary man, and the relation to Him of Judas been the ordinary one, we could understand his feelings, especially considering his ardent temperament. The instant before and after sin represents the difference of feeling as portrayed in the history of the Fall of our first parents. With the commission of sin, all the bewitching, intoxicating influence, which incited to it, has passed away, and only the naked fact remains. All the glamour has been dispelled; all the reality abideth. If we knew it, probably scarcely one out of many criminals but would give all he has, nay, life itself, if he could recall the deed done, or awake from it to find it only an evil dream. But it cannot be; and the increasingly terrible is, that it is done, and done for ever. Yet this is not ‘repentance,’ or, at least, God alone knows whether it is such; it may be, and in the case of Judas it only was, ‘change of mind and feeling’ towards Jesus. Whether this might have passed into repentance, whether, if he had cast himself at the Feet of Jesus, as undoubtedly he might have done, this would have been so, we need not here ask. The mind and feelings of Judas, as regarded the deed he had done, and as regarded Jesus, were now quite other; they became increasingly so with ever-growing intensity. The road, the streets, the people’s faces – all seemed now to bear witness against him and for Jesus. He read it everywhere; he felt it always; he imagined it, till his whole being was on flame. What had been; what was; what would be! Heaven and earth receded from him; there were voices in the air, and pangs in the soul – and no escape, help, counsel, or hope anywhere.
It was despair, and his a desperate resolve. He must get rid of these thirty pieces of silver, which, like thirty serpents, coiled round his soul with terrible hissing of death. Then at least his deed would have nothing of the selfish in it: only a terrible error, a mistake, to which he had been incited by these Sanhedrists. Back to them with the money, and let them have it again! And so forward he pressed amidst the wondering crowd, which would give way before that haggard face with the wild eyes, that crime had made old in those few hours, till he came upon that knot of priests and Sanhedrists, perhaps at that very moment speaking of it all. A most unwelcome sight and intrusion on them, this necessary but odious figure in the drama – belonging to its past, and who should rest in its obscurity. But he would be heard; nay, his words would cast the burden on them to share it with him, as with hoarse cry he broke into this: ‘I have sinned – in that I have betrayed – innocent blood!’ They turned from him with impatience, in contempt, as so often the seducer turns from the seduced – and, God help such, with the same fiendish guilt of hell: ‘What is that to us? See thou to it!’ And presently they were again deep in conversation or consultation. For a moment he stared wildly before him, the very thirty pieces of silver that had been weighed to him, and which he had now brought back, and would fain have given them, still clutched in his hand. For a moment only, and then he wildly rushed forward, towards the Sanctuary itself, probably to where the Court of Israel bounded on that of the Priests, where generally the penitents stood in waiting, while in the Priests’ Court the sacrifice was offered for them. He bent forward, and with all his might hurled from him 35 those thirty pieces of silver, so that each resounded as it fell on the marble pavement.
Out he rushed from the Temple, out of Jerusalem, ‘into solitude.’ Whither shall it be? Down into the horrible solitude of the Valley of Hinnom, the ‘Tophet’ of old, with its ghastly memories, the Gehenna of the future, with its ghostly associations. But it was not solitude, for it seemed now peopled with figures, faces, sounds. Across the Valley, and up the steep sides of the mountain! We are now on ‘the potter’s field’ of Jeremiah – somewhat to the west above where the Kidron and Hinnom valleys merge. It is cold, soft clayey soil, where the footsteps slip, or are held in clammy bonds. Here jagged rocks rise perpendicularly: perhaps there was some gnarled, bent, stunted tree. Up there climbed to the top of that rock. Now slowly and deliberately he unwound the long girdle that held his garment. It was the girdle in which he had carried those thirty pieces of silver. He was now quite calm and collected. With that girdle he will hang himself on that tree close by, and when he has fastened it, he will throw himself off from that jagged rock.
It is done; but as, unconscious, not yet dead perhaps, he swung heavily on that branch, under the unwonted burden the girdle gave way, or perhaps the knot, which his trembling hands had made, unloosed, and he fell heavily forward among the jagged rocks beneath, and perished in the manner of which St. Peter reminded his fellow-disciples in the days before Pentecost. But in the Temple the priests knew not what to do with these thirty pieces of money. Their unscrupulous scrupulosity came again upon them. It was not lawful to take into the Temple-treasury, for the purchase of sacred things, money that had been unlawfully gained. In such cases the Jewish Law provided that the money was to be restored to the donor, and, if he insisted on giving it, that he should be induced to spend it for something for the public weal. This explains the apparent discrepancy between the accounts in the Book of Acts and by St. Matthew. By a fiction of law the money was still considered to be Judas’, and to have been applied by him in the purchase of the well-known ‘potter’s field,’ for the charitable purpose of burying in it strangers. But from henceforth the old name of ‘potter’s field,’ became popularly changed into that of ‘field of blood’. And yet it was the act of Israel through its leaders: ‘they took the thirty pieces of silver – the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value, and gave them for the potter’s field!’ It was all theirs, though they would have fain made it all Judas’: the valuing, the selling, and the purchasing. And ‘the potter’s field’ – the very spot on which Jeremiah had been Divinely directed to prophesy against Jerusalem and against Israel: how was it now all fulfilled in the light of the completed sin and apostasy of the people, as prophetically described by Zechariah! This Tophet of Jeremiah, now that they had valued and sold at thirty shekel Israel’s Messiah-Shepherd – truly a Tophet, and become a field of blood! Surely, not an accidental coincidence this, that it should be the place of Jeremy’s announcement of judgment: not accidental, but veritably a fulfilment of his prophecy! And so St. Matthew, targuming this prophecy in form 44 as in its spirit, and in true Jewish manner stringing to it the prophetic description furnished by Zechariah, sets the event before us as the fulfilment of Jeremy’s prophecy.
We are once more outside the Prætorium, to which Pilate had summoned from the Temple Sanhedrists and people. The crowd was momentarily increasing from the town. It was not only to see what was about to happen, but to witness another spectacle, that of the release of a prisoner. For it seems to have been the custom, that at the Passover 47 the Roman Governor released to the Jewish populace some notorious prisoner who lay condemned to death. A very significant custom of release this, for which they now began to clamour. It may have been, that to this also they were incited by the Sanhedrist who mingled among them. For if the stream of popular sympathy might be diverted to Bar-Abbas, the doom of Jesus would be the more securely fixed. On the present occasion it might be the more easy to influence the people, since Bar-Abbas belonged to that class, not uncommon at the time, which, under the colourable pretence of political aspirations, committed robbery and other crimes. But these movements had deeply struck root in popular sympathy. A strange name and figure, Bar-Abbas. That could scarcely have been his real name. It means ‘Son of the Father.’ Was he a political Anti-Christ? And why, if there had not been some conjunction between them, should Pilate have proposed the alternative of Jesus or Bar-Abbas, and not rather that of one of the two malefactors who were actually crucified with Jesus?
But when the Governor, hoping to enlist some popular sympathy, put this alternative to them – nay, urged it, on the ground that neither he nor yet Herod had found any crime in Him, and would even have appeased their thirst for vengeance by offering to submit Jesus to the cruel punishment of scourging, it was in vain. It was now that Pilate sat down on ‘the judgment seat.’ But ere he could proceed, came that message from his wife about her dream, and the warning entreaty to have nothing to do ‘with that righteous man.’ An omen such as a dream, and an appeal connected with it, especially in the circumstances of that trial, would powerfully impress a Roman. And for a few moments it seemed as if the appeal to popular feeling on behalf of Jesus might have been successful. 49 But once more the Sanhedrists prevailed. Apparently, all who had been followers of Jesus had been scattered. None of them seem to have been there; and if one or another feeble voice might have been raised for Him, it was hushed in fear of the Sanhedrists. It was Bar-Abbas for whom, incited by the priesthood, the populace now clamoured with increasing vehemence. To the question – half bitter, half mocking – what they wished him to do with Him Whom their own leaders had in their accusation called ‘King of the Jews,’ surged back, louder and louder, the terrible cry: ‘Crucify him!’ That such a cry should have been raised, and raised by Jews, and before the Roman, and against Jesus, are in themselves almost inconceivable facts, to which the history of these eighteen centuries has made terrible echo. In vain Pilate expostulated, reasoned, appealed. Popular frenzy only grew as it was opposed.
All reasoning having failed, Pilate had recourse to one more expedient, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been effective. 50 When a Judge, after having declared the innocence of the accused, actually rises from the judgment-seat, and by a symbolic act pronounces the execution of the accused a judicial murder, from all participation in which he wishes solemnly to clear himself, surely no jury would persist in demanding sentence of death. But in the present instance there was even more. Although we find allusions to some such custom among the heathen, that which here took place was an essentially Jewish rite, which must have appealed the more forcibly to the Jews that it was done by Pilate. And, not only the rite, but the very words were Jewish. They recall not merely the rite prescribed in Deuteronomy 21 v 6, &c., to mark the freedom from guilt of the elders of a city where untracked murder had been committed, but the very words of such Old Testament expressions as in 2 Samuel 3 v 28, and Psalm 26 v 6, 73 13, 53 and, in later times, in Sus. ver. 46. The Mishnah bears witness that this rite was continued. As administering justice in Israel, Pilate must have been aware of this rite. It does not affect the question, whether or not a judge could, especially in the circumstances recorded, free himself from guilt. Certainly, he could not; but such conduct on the part of a Pilate appears so utterly unusual, as, indeed, his whole bearing towards Christ, that we can only account for it by the deep impression which Jesus had made upon him. All the more terrible would be the guilt of Jewish resistance. There is something overawing in Pilate’s, ‘See ye to it’ – a reply to the Sanhedrists’ ‘See thou to it,’ to Judas, and in the same words. It almost seems, as if the scene of mutual imputation of guilt in the Garden of Eden were being re-enacted. The Mishnah tells us, that, after the solemn washing of hands of the elders and their disclaimer of guilt, priest responded with this prayer: ‘Forgive it to Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, O Lord, and lay not innocent blood upon Thy people Israel!’ But here, in answer to Pilate’s words, came back that deep, hoarse cry: ‘His Blood be upon us,’ and – God help us! – ‘on our children!’ Some thirty years later, and on that very spot, was judgment pronounced against some of the best in Jerusalem; and among the 3,600 victims of the Governor’s fury, of whom not a few were scourged and crucified right over against the Prætorium, were many of the noblest of the citizens of Jerusalem. A few years more, and hundreds of crosses bore Jewish mangled bodies within sight of Jerusalem. And still have these wanderers seemed to bear, from century to century, and from land to land, that burden of blood; and still does it seem to weigh ‘on us and our children.’
The Evangelists have passed as rapidly as possible over the last scenes of indignity and horror, and we are too thankful to follow their example. Bar-Abbas was at once released. Jesus was handed over to the soldiery to be scourged and crucified, although final and formal judgment had not yet been pronounced. 57 Indeed, Pilate seems to have hoped that the horrors of the scourging might still move the people to desist from the ferocious cry for the Cross. 58 For the same reason we may also hope, that the scourging was not inflicted with the same ferocity as in the case of Christian martyrs, when, with the object of eliciting the incrimination of others, or else recantation, the scourge of leather thongs was loaded with lead, or armed with spikes and bones, which lacerated back, and chest, and face, till the victim sometimes fell down before the judge a bleeding mass of torn flesh. But, however modified, and without repeating the harrowing realism of a Cicero, scourging was the terrible introduction to crucifixion – ‘the intermediate death.’ Stripped of His clothes, His hands tied and back bent, the Victim would be bound to a column or stake, in front of the Prætorium. The scourging ended, the soldiery would hastily cast upon Him His upper garments, and lead Him back into the Prætorium. Here they called the whole cohort together, and the silent, faint Sufferer became the object of their ribald jesting. From His bleeding Body they tore the clothes, and in mockery arrayed Him in scarlet or purple. For crown they wound together thorns, and for sceptre they placed in His Hand a reed. Then alternately, in mock proclamation they hailed Him King, or worshipped Him as God, and smote Him or heaped on Him other indignities.
Such a spectacle might well have disarmed enmity, and for ever allayed worldly fears. And so Pilate had hoped, when, at his bidding, Jesus came forth from the Prætorium, arrayed as a mock-king, and the Governor presented Him to the populace in words which the Church has ever since treasured: ‘Behold the Man!’ But, so far from appeasing, the sight only incited to fury the ‘chief priests’ and their subordinates. This Man before them was the occasion, that on this Paschal Day a heathen dared in Jerusalem itself insult their deepest feeling, mock their most cherished Messianic hopes! ‘Crucify!’ ‘Crucify!’ resounded from all sides. Once more Pilate appealed to them, when, unwittingly and unwillingly, it elicited this from the people, that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God.
If nothing else, what light it casts on the mode in which Jesus had borne Himself amidst those tortures and insults, that this statement of the Jews filled Pilate with fear, and led him to seek again converse with Jesus within the Prætorium. The impression which had been made at the first, and been deepened all along, had now passed into the terror of superstition. His first question to Jesus was, whence He was? And when, as was most fitting – since he could not have understood it – Jesus returned no answer, the feelings of the Romans became only the more intense. Would he not speak; did He not know that he had absolute power ‘to release or to crucify’ Him? Nay, not absolute power – all power came from above; but the guilt in the abuse of power was far greater on the part of apostate Israel and its leaders, who knew whence power came, and to Whom they were responsible for its exercise.
So spake not an impostor; so spake not an ordinary man – after such sufferings and in such circumstances – to one who, whencesoever derived, had the power of life or death over Him. And Pilate felt it – the more keenly, for his cynicism and disbelief of all that was higher. And the more earnestly did he now seek to release Him. But, proportionately, the louder and fiercer was the cry of the Jews for His Blood, till they threatened to implicate in the charge of rebellion against Cæsar the Governor himself, if he persisted in unwonted mercy.
Such danger a Pilate would never encounter. He sat down once more in the judgment-seat, outside the Prætorium, in the place called ‘Pavement,’ and, from its outlook over the City, ‘Gabbatha,’ ‘the rounded height.’ So solemn is the transaction that the Evangelist pauses to note once more the day – nay, the very hour, when the process had commenced. It had been the Friday in Passover-week, and between six and seven of the morning. And at the close Pilate once more in mockery presented to them Jesus: ‘Behold your King!’ Once more they called for His Crucifixion – and, when again challenged, the chief priests burst into the cry, which preceded Pilate’s final sentence, to be presently executed: ‘We have no king but Cæsar!’
With this cry Judaism was, in the person of its representatives, guilty of denial of God, of blasphemy, of apostasy. It committed suicide; and, ever since, has its dead body been carried in show from land to land, and from century to century: to be dead, and to remain dead, till He come a second time, Who is the Resurrection and the Life!