What was unfair and unlawful about the Cross 5 – The Judges

5.  The judges

Jesus was judged by three separate judges or sets of judges.

1. The Sanhedrin
The charges were inconsistent
2. Pontius Pilate
2.a. The Sanhedrin kept ceremonially clean but committed murder
2.b. The crowd chose to free Barabbas rather than Jesus
2.c. Pilate found Jesus innocent
3. Herod
3.a. Herod had no jurisdiction
3.b. Jesus was flogged more than 39 times
3.c. Roman soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus

5.1    The Sanhedrin

The high priesthood was in the same family for fifteen centuries but, at the time of Christ’s trial, was given to the one who offered the most money for it.  Josephus, the historian, said that people who wanted to be priests “…  struggled together…  by casting reproachful words against one another, and by throwing stones…  after a licentious manner.”

The Talmud said, “They are high priests themselves, their sons are treasurers, their sons-in-law are commanders, and their servants strike the people with staves.”

The majority of the priests were Pharisees, who used religion as a tool for ruling over the people.  They believed they were infallible, and they were not interest in bringing Jesus to justice; they only wanted to protect their own corruptness and unfounded religious views by utterly disgracing him.

5.1.A.  What was unlawful

5.1.A.a.         The charges were inconsistent

Jesus was charged with sedition, blasphemy and high treason against Caesar.

At the beginning of the trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was charged with sedition which was soon abandoned for lack of witnesses.  The trial proceeded on the charge of blasphemy.  Then, before Pilate, the charge of blasphemy was dropped and a third charge was made: “high treason” against Caesar, the most serious crime known to the Roman law.

Mark 14:55.  Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses?  You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’

Luke 23:2And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”

The court illegally switched the charges from blasphemy to treason before Pilate.  Jesus’ opponents wanted Him killed, but they did not want to do it themselves.  So they charged Him with treason – a Roman crime – so the Romans would be responsible for His death.  No evidence was presented (John 18:29-30).  Pilate, after a brief interview, saw that Jesus was not guilty (John 18:38, 19; Matt 27:18).  Fearing the crowd, however, he allowed the crucifixion of an innocent man.  Pilate did not even pronounce Him guilty; he merely turned Him over to the soldiers.

5.2   Pontius Pilate

Both Josephus and Philo painted a very ugly picture of this sixth Roman procurator of Judea.  Philo charged him with “corruptibility, violence, robberies, ill-treatment of the people, grievances, continuous executions without even the form of a trial, endless and intolerable cruelties.”

5.2.a The unfairness

a. The Sanhedrin kept ceremonially clean but committed murder
b. The crowd chose to free Barabbas rather than Jesus
b. Pilate found Jesus innocent

5.2.a.i The Sanhedrin avoided ceremonial uncleanness but embraced murder

The Sanhedrin would not go into Pilate’s house (the Praetorium – hall of judgment) because it would make them unclean and so unable to eat the Passover.  There is no law in the Old Testament against entering a Gentile’s home, but in later teaching it was laid down that “the dwelling-places of gentiles are unclean”.

5.2.a.ii The crowd chose to free Barabbas rather than Jesus

The crowd demanded the release of someone who was under arrest for his threat against Rome.  There is also irony in the name “Barabbas”, since it means “son of Abba” and, especially in John’s Gospel, Jesus is known as the Son of the Father.

Matthew 27:15-2315 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted.  16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”  18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.  19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”  20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.  21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”  And they said, “Barabbas.”  22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”  They all said, “Let him be crucified!”  23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?”  But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

5.2.b What was unlawful

5.2.b.i Pilate found Jesus innocent

Pilate regarded Jesus as a harmless religious fanatic, from whom Caesar had nothing to fear.  He went to the rabble and pronounced a verdict of “not guilty, I find in Him no fault at all.”

Pilate actually conducted a proper Roman trial, asking direct questions of the accused three times.  He asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews.  Jesus replied, “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 My kingdom is not from hence” (John 18:36).

Luke 23:7.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time”.

Luke 23:13.  [Pilate said,] “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.  I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.  Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.  Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

Matthew 27:24-26.  When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it.’

John 19:7-8.  7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.

John 19:12.  As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate was truly afraid that Jesus was God, but he was more afraid of Caesar than he was of God.

5.3   Herod

Herod was the Tetrarch of Galilee, a selfish light-minded unjust narcissist who despised the God of his fathers.  This is shown by his marriage to his brother’s wife, his beheading of John the Baptist, his acceptance of praise that belonged to God, and his resultant hideous death.

Luke 23:8-9When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.  So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer.

Herod never really cared who Jesus was; he just wanted Jesus to “perform.”  Jesus treated his prurient questions with contemptuous silence.

a. Herod had no jurisdiction
b. Jesus was flogged more than 39 times
c. Roman soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus

5.3.a  What was unlawful

5.3.a.i   Herod was out of his area of jurisdiction

In Jerusalem, a place outside his province, Herod was not judicially empowered to examine Jesus so Jesus was not legally compelled to answer

Luke 23:11.  And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him.  Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.

5.3.a.ii   Jesus was almost certainly flogged more than 39 times

Jewish law only allowed a person to be flogged 39 times.

Deuteronomy 25:1-31If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, 2then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense.  3Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.

2 Corinthians 11: 24.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.

5.3.b What was unfair

5.3.b.i  The Roman soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus

The Roman soldiers flogged, mocked and spat on Jesus.  They stripped him naked except for a crown of thorns (probably from the date palm , which has thorns 30 cm long), and forced him to carry his splintery cross on his bloody back through the crowded streets to his place of execution.

Back to top

1.  Background
2.  The arrest
3.  The trial
Previous post – 4.  The sentencing
5.  The judges
Next post – 6.  The execution
7.  Summary
8.  Conclusion

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