Charles F. (Charles Force) Deems.

Who was Jesus? online

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\Yhile suffering these things Jesus heard Peter cursing and
swearing, and avowing that he never knew him. From his infuri-
ated judges he turned and looked upon his faithless disciple.
Jesus was most completely abandoned.

Section 5. — Pilate.

It is to be remembered that Palestine was a conquered pro-
vince, regularly governed by the conquerors. Six years after tho

birth of Jesus, Archelaus, son of Herod, had
The Procurator. , -, ^ ^ r ^ jo • i

been deposed, and Judsea and Samaria annexed
to the province of Syria, the Presses or governor of which was
the highest representative of Roman imperialism. Nevertheless
a special procurator was appointed for Judsea, and the office at
this time was held by Pontius Pilate. The procurator ordinarily
resided at Csesarea, by the seaside, but usually came up with
troops to attend the great festivals, partly for the enjoyment he
might have amid the excitements, and partly because it was his
duty to keep the Roman authority before the eyes of the Jews,
and to be ready to repress any popular outbreak which would be
likely to occur when so many people were assembled at the me-
tropolis. During the six years in which he had held the office
Pilate had incensed the .lews by his violence and oppression.

The Sanhedrim had no right to inflict capital punishment.
Wherever Rome extended its dominion the jus gladiifthe right

of the sword, the power over life and death, waa

' J taken from the conquered. In the case of the

Jews all minor matters were left in the hands of their council,


especially the settlement of all religious questions, but civil casea
were tried by the procurator, and capital cases by the Praises. In
this case it seems to have been deputed to the procurator. lie
was present in the city. It was the beginning of Friday. The
Passover was to commence on the evening of that day. They
had only that morning to secure the condemnation and execution
of Jesus. If delayed until the festival had passed, the whole coun-
try might be aroused and a great reaction in his favor might set m.
It was, therefore, determined to keep him bound and guarded, and
to assemble at daybreak and push their plans to a consummation.

All the night long was Jesus buffeted, tortured, insulted. They
would have killed him if they had dared ; but Home looked down
on them from the tower of Antonia and kept even churchly rage
in check.

Day began to dawn. The light was breaking over Olivet. The
earliest movements must be made. The procurator must be seen

as early as practicable. There was a reassembling

To Pilate

of the Sanhedrim. In the night session they had
condemned him: but beyond that they were powerless; they
could not execute him, and they could not see Pilate at that horn*.
The object of the morning meeting was to concoct plans to have
him put to death, according to their verdict. This could be done
only through Pilate. They pre-arranged their methods. They
took Jesus bound, making as imposing a procession as possible;
thus, as far as in them lay, prejudicing his case. The palace
of Pilate had been desecrated in their eyes by having been the
residence of a Gentile. These scrupulous officials, intent on a
ciime, compassing the destruction of a man against whom they
could prove nothing, although he had led a public life bj the
space of three years, were so cautious that they would not defile
themselves by entering a Gentile's house, because the Passover
was at hand. They forgot that the members of the Sanhedrim
were hound to spend the day Easting in which they had con-
demned a man to death. Churchism is the same in all ages.
They sent in to Pilate, and he came out, as his custom was.

Then commenced a play of passions on both sides, which consti-
tute a profoundly interesting Btudy. He Baw
. . , .. , '. . Play t" passions.

the crowd, the council, the prisoner. It was an

unusual hour. It musl be an unusual case. His quick eye
Interpreted the genera] meaning of the scene. Turning to Caia-


plias and the Sanhedrim, he said, " What accusation do you
bring against this man ? "

It is not poetry, it is criticism, to strive to know what looks and
gestures accompanied any speech of any historical character. It
is well known how greatly these vary the sense of the mere
words. If we could know precisely the motions of the person,
the play of the lips, the glance of the eye of Jesus, how much
more intelligible would his words be, and how our interpretation
of them might be changed. And still more how we should be
helped by a knowledge of the precise tone and emphasis he em-
ployed. The same is true of others, and here of Pilate. lie may
have looked at Jesus and seen him pale and worn, yet calm as the
morning in whose light he stood. lie may have contrasted the
face of the prisoner, so free from passion, with the heated and
fierce glare in the countenances of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrim,
whose excitement and anger through the night must have left
their traces ; and Pilate may have uttered unfeigned surprise by
the exclamatory question, " What accusation do you bring against
him ? " as if intimating that if either party should be plaintiff it
was Jesus.

But, read with any emphasis, the question gave the churchmen
plainly to understand that in this case Pilate did not intend to

pronounce a confirmation of any sentence they

may have passed, ordering its execution without
examination and perfunctorily. Unfortunately for him lie had in
haste done such things before, and thus emboldened these men to
venture in this case a presumption upon his judicial carelessness,
lie gave them to understand that he intended to take cognizance
of this case. His question assumed, what the Sanhedrim knew
to be true, that he had the right of original jurisdiction, as repre-
sentative of the Roman Emperor. This took them aback. They
had not expected from Pilate such assertion of his rights. They
expected of him simply the secular sanction to their ecclesiastical
verdict. They expected to be acknowledged as judges. But Pi-
late took the bench, and put them on the stand of the witnesses.
This touched their pride to the quick, while it seemed to inti-

mate a miscarriage of their whole plan. Their
ride arrogant reply was, " If he were not a malefactor

we would not have delivered him up to you.''
As if they resented the insult which was implied in his words,


that they could have condemned an innocent man. But Pilate
was as proud as Caiaphas. In reply to their claim to be judges,
he said, " Take him, and judge him according to your law." As
if he had ironically said, " Oh, that is it ! You do not vouchsafe
to inform me even of the accusation against this man. You claim
to be judges. Y^ou know your limit. I am sure that I am will-
ing that you should try him according to your law, and condemn
him, and punish him as far as the law will permit. If you be
judges, take the case away, and do not trouble me with it." This
irony was stinging ; but the Roman might become obstinate, and
insist that the case remain with them, and they could not put
Jesus to death ; and so the whole scheme was like to miscarry.

This brought them to terms. They were obliged to submit the
indictment. If they had had all power in their hands they would
have stoned him for blasphemy. It is noticeable
that Jesus had predicted that his career would .^^a
end in crucifixion, the Roman — rather than in
stoning, the Hebrew — mode of execution. The probabilities had
all been in favor of the latter. It was this sudden and unex-
pected obstinacy of Pilate which changed the current of affairs.
For a moment they were in perplexity. To tell Pilate that Jesus
had committed blasphemy, by claiming to be the Son of God,
would g for nothing. He had no interest in their religious
questions : he was utterly a pagan. They changed their ground,
and 6aid, "AVe found this one perverting our nation, and forbid-
ding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that lie himself is Christ, a
King." There are three counts in this allegation ; the first two
being to the nation notoriously false, and the third being to Pilate
merely ridiculous. Jesus had explicitly taught the people to
" render unto Ca3sar the things that are Crosars ; " but the bare
fact that such a question should have been brought to him is an in-
dication of the unsettled state of the public mind, and how ready
the people were to listen to any suggestions of rebellion. Caia-
phas and his fellow-conspirators knew that, in the sense in which
Pilate must have understood it, tin- third count was false. Jesus
had aspired to no temporal rule, and had done nothing to make
himself :i rival of CffiSar, but had simply claimed to be the Mes-
siah, a claim in which the representative of the Roman Emperor
could have no official, and scarcely any personal, interest

When Pilate, from the portico of his palace, looked down upon


the meek face of the prophet from Galilee and saw his hands

bound, and the spittle of the slaves on his beard.

An absurd . . . ,,■• n -, ■, i

charge a general mendlessness, and how tho»'

oughly he was in the hands of his enemies, it
must have seemed the most absurd thing to him that Caiaphas
should bring such a man, under such circumstances, and charge
him with the loftiest political ambition and the most immense
political enterprise. And then a suspicion must have come to him
that there was something behind all this ; that if Jesus really had
entertained ideas of revolt, these priests were the very first men
to foster any opposition and trouble to Rome, and the very last
men to oppose or even embarrass the movements of any real

But as the allegation had been made, the investigation must be
had. Pilate went into the praetorium, so as to take his official
position. The Roman trial was public. Any could enter. Jesus
had no scruples, and when he was called went in at once. There
were the representatives of the scrupulous churchmen present. If
they could not go in, they could send in those who should watch
and in some measure influence proceedings. Friends of Jesus
might also enter and report to those outside.

Pilate said to Jesus, " Are you the King of the Jews? " Whether

Pilate intended it or not, there was a trap in the question. It

could not have a categorical answer. If Jesus
In the praeto- ., ,. __ ,, ,,.. , „ _ .

rium- said " l es, to Pilate s manner or thought it

might seem an acknowledgment of the charge of
sedition they were making against him. If he said "No," it
would seem an abandonment of the Messianic claims he had al-
ready advanced. His reply to Pilate was a question, "Do you
say this of yourself, or did others tell it you of me?" To a man
of the world like Pilate it should have showed that the person be-
fore him was not a crazy adventurer from the rural districts,
whose claim to he Tiberius himself, if he had made it, would have
been as harmless as any other utterance of wild insanity. It
meant, " Do you put that question to me in the Roman or the
Jewish, in the political or the ecclesiastical sense?" — "Am I a
Jew?" Pilate replied rather petulantly. u Your own nation and
the high-priest have delivered you to me ! What have you done ?"
Jesus had done nothing. His abstinence from all politics was
remarkable. His enemies could bring nothing against him. The


charge of sedition was an unfounded calumny, and they had not
been able to find a solitary man in the crowded city to bear wit-
ness thereto.

But now he can approach an answer to Pilate which shall be
consistent at once with his innocence and his claims. lie said:

" Mv kingdom is not of this world. If my king-

, f i • i t i i i Jesus replies to

doni were or this world, then would my servants p Uate

fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.
My kingdom is not from hence." Here was a statement which
implied that there was a kingdom whose defenders were not the
Roman eagles. To an imperial official there seemed no kingdom
that was not Roman. Or, if any other kingdom, it would draw
sword but in vain, for it should soon succumb to Roman power.
But the kingdom of Jesus was totally disengaged from secular
governments, reigning under and over and through them, and
would survive them, and did not need the defence of the sword.
But a kingdom implied a king, and yet such a kingdom as Jesus
had been describing seemed a mere vague idea ; so Pilate asked,
" Are you not a king then ? "

Now Jesus had placed his judge in such a posture that the an-
swer about to be given should not be deceptive : " Thou sayest
that I am a king. To this end was I born, and
for this purpose came I into the world, that I
should bear witness concerning the truth. Every one who is of
the truth bears my voice." It was the kingdom of truth, and not
of physical power, in which he claimed to be supreme. Such a
claim threatened no danger to the Emperor: why, then, should
Pilate care for it? He had heard such things before. There
were Greek and Roman philosophers who taught that those who
lived by the truth were kings among men'. And it seemed to
Pilate that it was the same proposition he had heard often, now
pronounced b} r a Jew. He did not believe that men could reach
the ultimate and absolute truth. It was a pretty fancy lor poetic
dreamers, a fine theory lor recluses ami philosophers, but there
was ttothing practical in it, nor useful to a man of affairs. It may
base been with some bitterness of regrel thai Buch a search should
be, as be believed, fruitless, that Pilate exclaimed with a sigh,
" YYliat is truth?" as he passed out to the portico toannounee the
acquittal of Jesus to the priests, which he did by saying, " 1 find
no fault in him."


Then the vehement Sanhedrim repeated their accusations. Jesua
said not a word. The contrast between the raging churchmen
and the meek heretic struck Pilate so forcibly
that he appealed to him : " Do you answer
nothing? See how many things they witness against you." Jesus
kept his silence. In the ecclesiastical and in the civil courts
Jesus paid no attention to anything that did not touch his claims
to Messiahship. AVhen that was involved he was perfectly ex-
plicit, giving his persecutors and his judges ample ground. On
all else he was silent. lie seemed determined, when put to death,
to perish in his claim to be the Son of God in a sense signifying
that he was God's equal. This self-control seemed marvellous to
Pilate, who reiterated his judgment, saying, "I find no fault in
this man." But the crowd about the portico was fierce. IIow-
ever innocent Jesus might be, he had manifestly rendered himself
odious to the ecclesiastical rulers. It placed Pilate in a trying
position. For all that appeared, he should have set Jesus free :
but to do so peremptorily, before he had allayed the passionate
excitement of the church party, would be to peril all parties. His
parley with the priests was in the interests of Jesus and justice.

But the rabid mob shouted, " He stirs up the multitude through-
out all Judrea, even beginning from Galilee to this place." Here
"was a distinet charge of sedition: but the naming of Galilee was
an outlet for the perplexed Pilate. They mentioned it as a
sinister circumstance that this man's ministry had begun among
the turbulent Galileans, in a country belonging to his political
adversary. The shrewd Pilate saw in it a solution of his diffi-

Section G. — Herod.

The part which Herod Antipas had taken in the murder of

John the Baptist has been narrated. This king, Roman in office,

Hebrew in faith, licentious in life, had been
Iierod and Jesus. , , . . . ,i

haunted by superstitious terror ever since the

filiation of John in prison. "When he heard that another

prophet was travelling through the country, preaching with a skill

the effects

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Force) DeemsWho was Jesus? → online text (page 65 of 77)