Yesterday we read of Jesus’ mock trial before the religious leaders. Today, we read of Jesus trial before Pilate. Before we address Pilate, however, we see a brief interjection about Judas, Jesus’ betrayer.
The story of Judas’ remorse and eventual suicide illustrates a definite fact about Jesus’ pending conviction by Pilate—it’s all part of God’s plan. In fact, Matthew cites the prophet Jeremiah to make his point. It’s interesting to note that although Matthew cites Jeremiah, he actually provides a more direct quote from the prophet Zechariah. Before we assume Matthew is erroneous in his attribution, we should consider, as many commentators point out, that Matthew likely has in mind several allusions to Jeremiah and the passage from Zechariah, but only provides attribution to one source, the “major” prophet (a common practice). All that to say, as tragic as the consequences of Judas’ actions and his ultimate fate were, they were all a part of God’s plan.
Now onto the meat of today’s passage, Pontius Pilate was a jerk. I used to feel somewhat sorry for Pilate because I felt like he had been put in an unfair position. From the tone of the passage it seems like he’s trying, however he can, to get Jesus off the hook. He even tried to sway the crowd by making them choose to either release the vile murderous Barabbas or Jesus; they chose Barabbas.
I used to feel sorry for Pilate before I learned that he used to do things to incense the Jews. The historian Josephus records how he antagonized the Jews on several occasions and dealt harshly with them. However, some recent events had occurred that took the wind out of Pilates sails.
The Roman Emperor Tiberius was a bit of a recluse and had “entrusted the administration of his government to Sejanus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, a cruel, oppressive despot who abused his power. Perhaps an anti-Semite, Sejanus appointed Pontius Pilate as prefect over Judea.” (Holman Bible Atlas) After Sejanus plotted to have Tiberius killed, Tiberius was upset and had Sejanus killed. Tiberius then went about putting others on trial for treason. As you can imagine, since Pilate was appointed by a man that tried to have the Emperor killed, he was trying to stay below the radar. Not only that, before him stands a man being accused of calling himself a King, while the Emperor in Rome is on the rampage for treason.
While Pilate would probably love nothing more than to incense the Jews again by letting Jesus go, it would look really bad for him to overlook a charge of treason. Not to mention the fact that if riots broke out, the Emperor would be reminded of who Pilate was really quick—there was no good option. Thus,
24 when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Much of what Jesus endured was foretold in the prophets and proof of God’s plan. It seems to me that God had so well-orchestrated events that Pilate, the most powerful man in the region, the only one who actually had authority to execute a prisoner, found himself trapped, unable to help an innocent man.
As you think about this passage today, how does the knowledge that Jesus’ torture and crucifixion was all part of God’s plan encourage you or bring hope in present circumstances? After all, he did it for you!
By: Tyler Short — Connections Associates