by Daniel McCabe
Trial Before Pontius Pilate
John 19:5, “Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’”
A steady parade of Roman governors had tried unsuccessfully to keep the peace in Jerusalem, but Pontius Pilate knew that he must succeed where others had failed. Serving at the discretion of his emperor over a large territory that included Israel, one poor decision or one bad report from his subjects might derail Pilate’s career as well. The Jews living under Roman occupation understandably resented their Latin conquerors. Once a proud and independent nation, the Jews now lived under countless restrictions of travel, speech and law, including a statute forbidding them to practice capital punishment without Roman sanction (John 18:31).
So, very early on Friday morning following the final Passover feast for Jesus with his disciples, the Jewish religious leaders marched him to the praetorium—the governor’s headquarters in Jerusalem—seeking that sanction. The Jews pleaded with Pilate to put Jesus to death—to crucify him. Pilate, finding no fault in Jesus, but hoping to arouse sympathy for Jesus, ordered his men to scourge him. Having faced false accusations before Caiaphas and the nation’s leaders and now having endured a night without sleep and a brutal beating, Jesus “came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’” (John 19:5). But at that moment it barely looked possible that Jesus, covered with sweat and blood and mangled beyond recognition by the sharp stoned tip of a Roman whip, could be called a king. But to Pilate’s surprise the crowd thirsted for more treachery. “Crucify Him,” they chanted, adding, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend” (19:12).
Friendship with Caesar meant almost everything to Pilate, and therefore, fearful that he might lose his governorship if the people complained against him to Rome, his heart buckled under the weight of the persistent wish of the frenzied crowd. The friend of Caesar thus delivered the Friend of sinners to be crucified. Pilate instantly became an enemy of God, for the Bible teaches that “whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Pilate chose his career over Christ—king Caesar over King Jesus. Pilate chose the world over our wounded Savior.
Today a simple arch spans the smooth stones of the Via Dolorosa inside the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem where tradition says that Pilate once stood before the early morning crowd. Called the Ecce Homo Arch (meaning “Behold the Man“ or more accurately “This is the Man” in Latin) it memorializes the place where Pilate presented Jesus to the people following his beating for their final decision—either to accept him as their king or to reject him as a blasphemous and insidious man.
Caesar and I could never be friends. I have chosen a friendship with Jesus. I trust that you have done the same.
Further Reading: Matthew 27:2, 11-31; Mark 15:1-20; Luke 23:1-5, 13-25; John 18:28-19:16
Dr. Daniel McCabe is the pastor of Faith Bible Church in Spring, Texas. He is a contributing editor for The Jerusalem Connection Report. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.