Part IV: Triumph Over Death
The Sinless One
Becomes A Sin-Offering
For (God) hath made Him,
who knew no sin,
to be a sin-offering for us;
that we might be made
the righteousness of God in Him.
(2 Corinthians 5:21)
On the Mount
of Transfiguration, God had declared that the Man Christ Jesus
had matured faultlessly and, like Enoch, was ready for "graduation."
He had earned the right to enter heaven. Before their very eyes,
the three disciples had witnessed the glorification of Jesus,
his face shining like the sun and his raiment white as light
But then to their astonishment, instead
of the joy that might have crowned the perfecting of his manhood,
Jesus had come back down the mountain and had at once set out
for Jerusalem a course of action which could only end in
his death. What astonished them was the commitment of Jesus to
death rather than glory. In the succeeding days He explained
what would happen at Jerusalem: "The Son of man shall be
betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they
shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles
to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him. And the third day
he shall rise again" (Matthew 20:18,19). The disciples were
amazed: they didn't understand. It was so contrary to all their
hopes of a Messiah: for their hope was not in a Lamb. They looked
for a kingdom, forgetting the prior need of personal salvation.
Jesus knew what was involved in becoming the Lamb of God. The
steps of the procedure He must go through were prefigured in
the ceremony of the Day of Atonement. Like the victims for that
Holy Day, He had to be examined according to certain specifications
laid down by law and then officially and publicly declared to
be without spot or blemish, an acceptable victim for sacrifice.
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He must have been intensely aware
of this deeper meaning when He shared the Passover Supper with
the disciples, an awareness made more acute since the disciples
were unable to comprehend despite his teaching. To them this
was the most important Holy Day of the year . . . indeed a day
of rejoicing! To Him . . . an awful portent.
Earlier that afternoon Peter and
John, representing the Lord's "household," had presented
a paschal lamb before the priests in the Temple. In a brief but
carefully regulated ceremony, the lamb was slain. A priest with
a silver or gold vessel caught a small sample of the dying victim's
blood, passed it to other priests near the altar who took this
blood and cast it in one sweep at the base of the altar while
at the same time supplying a fresh clean bowl to another priest
for the next sacrificial victim. The procedure was quick but
reverent and orderly. At some convenient place nearby, the lamb
was skinned and cleaned, parts were passed to other priests to
be offered up as a burnt offering and the rest taken home for
the Passover supper. The whole procedure took but a few minutes,
and hundreds of lambs were offered up in this way.
The Passover day began at 6 p.m..
An upper room some believe it was in Mark's house (Matthew
26:1719) had been prepared for Jesus to share this
meal with his disciples. While the lamb was roasting, the meal
began with unleavened bread and wine (presumably unfermented,
for why otherwise use unleavened bread?). It was then that the
Lord instituted the pattern of our communion service. The disciples
seem to have been totally unaware of the deep significance of
what was taking place at the table the meaning of the Lord's
words regarding the bread and wine, the whispered conversation
between Judas and the Lord, his statement that He would not again
eat this with them until He did so in an entirely new setting
The passover lamb was now ready
to be served and was brought to the table. What can have been
in the Lord's mind as He saw laid before Him this sacrificial
victim, seeing the hour was so very near when He Himself would
become the sacrificial victim of which this was but a symbol?
He had said previously to his disciples, "Except ye eat
of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have no
life in you" (John 6:53), and now the time was almost come
for its appalling fulfillment in his own Person. The meaning
of his words at that time had been wholly lost to his hearers,
except as an offensive
idea grossly misunderstood
by their carnal minds; and even now it is doubtful if any one
of the disciples perceived the significance of the present circumstances.
Such total lack of understanding must have added to the burden
of his spirit, especially as they were engaged in a heated argument
as to who should have the highest position in the Kingdom to
come (Luke 22:24). What loneliness, humanly speaking, the Lord
must have constantly suffered! What patience He showed towards
these blind followers!
After the meal was over, and Judas
had already gone his way into the night to do his terrible work,
they sang a psalm and together left the upper room heading in
the bright moonlight (for Passover was at full moon) towards
the Garden of Gethsemane.
From that moment events moved quickly.
Judas now knew where Jesus could be safely apprehended, and Caiaphas
was allowed a small company of soldiers to conduct the arrest.
Since the soldiers might not identify Jesus quickly amid his
disciples, all of whom would be rather similarly dressed, it
was essential for them to have an unmistakable sign. Judas arranged
to betray the Lord with a kiss, perhaps the touching of cheeks
on each side as is done to this day in greeting. The events going
on behind the scenes, though hidden from the disciples who therefore
could profess an untested but fearfully frail courage beforehand,
were of course fully known to the Lord Jesus Himself. His agony
in the Garden was not the response of a fearful soul who anticipated
pain but of One who could foresee events which were to be filled
with horror. To be made a sin-offering! That was the terrible
prospect for the fulfillment of which He sought strength of body,
mind, and spirit from his Father in heaven: and He was heard
(Hebrews 5:8) in that He received angelic assistance (Luke 22:43).
In the semi-darkness, the approaching
band of soldiers and some other people from Caiaphas' house including
a servant named Malchus, with lanterns fastened to their spears
or carried in their hands, must have been visible from some distance.
As they drew near, Judas ran forward and betrayed the Lord Jesus
with an embrace and a greeting. For a moment there may have been
some uncertainty and confusion, but the Lord offered no resistance
to his arrest, as his disciples must surely have supposed He
would do. Indeed, He told Peter to put up his sword and at the
same time undid the harm that Peter had done in using it by restoring
Malchus' severed ear.
To the disciples such actions were
totally unexpected and incomprehensible, and their courage being
undermined by their puzzlement, they all deserted Him and fled.
The Lord Jesus remained alone, an unresisting prisoner of the
soldiers. The Messiah who was to destroy the enemies of Israel
and rule over the world had meekly surrendered to the enemy,
and now allowed Himself to be led away into the night
apparently without protest!
No wonder the disciples had fled. Thus was the Lord Jesus led
away unresisting to the High Priest.
Then began that extraordinary trial
perhaps the most infamous in history which, while
establishing the utter worthlessness of the court itself as a
defender of human justice, served only to establish for all time
the complete innocence of the Accused.
authorities conducted a trial which contravened every single
safeguard against injustice to the innocent that they had laboriously
constructed over the previous centuries. And so it was that by
a travesty of illegalities the Lord Jesus Christ was publicly
shown to be innocent though this was not their intention
and thus identified as the Lamb of God, without spot or
blemish, a worthy sacrificial victim to die for the sins of others.
Nor did the Gentile court
prove to be any more just, though conducted by a nation whose
law was universally recognized as fair and sound. Nevertheless
this trial also clearly demonstrated the innocence of the Accused,
the court showed itself to be equally unable to fulfill its mandate
in upholding justice.
Two trials were involved: a trial
by Caiaphas officially representing Israel, and a trial by Pilate
officially representing the Gentile world. The Jewish court in
a desperate effort to maintain their authority among their own
people stooped to measures entirely illegal. The Gentile court
did no better. Coming to a right verdict of "Not guilty,"
Pilate then surrendered to expediency and perjured himself.
So the trial of Jesus Christ, whether
religious or civil, was in fact and in every sense a miscarriage
of justice. Jew or Gentile, Herod or Pilate it made no
difference. What was initiated by the envy and hatred of the
religious authorities in the Court of Caiaphas was reinforced
by the brutality and sadism of the soldiers under the authority
of a Roman Governor in the Hall of Judgment. It was a truth indeed
that "against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed,
both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people
of Israel, were gathered together. . ." (Acts 4:27).
Paradoxically, the religious
and the civil trial proved both the innocence of the Accused
and the guilt of the accusers! In point of fact He was the Judge
and they were on trial. The Lord Jesus had foreseen this: his
words, "Now is the judgment of this world" (John 12:31)
had a double meaning. Mankind was on trial. By their verdict
they demonstrated their own unrighteousness and only underscored
their need of a Saviour.
It was essential to the working
out of the Plan of Redemption that He be condemned to death though
innocent, and we shall see how it came about that the legally
constituted authorities unwittingly
performed their duty
by "certifying" the Lamb of God, thus providing for
mankind a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice and satisfaction
once for all in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Let us consider these two
trials separately, in the order in which they occurred: first
the trial in the Jewish Court under Caiaphas, and then the trial
in the Court of the Gentiles under Pilate.
One of England's
most prominent magistrates, Frank J. Powell, made a study of
the legal aspects of the Jewish trial of the Lord and was amazed
at what he discovered regarding the procedures adopted by these
authorities in the light of their normal practice in criminal
cases as set forth in great detail in the Mishnah. The
Mishnah was the more or less codified "Bill of Rights"
protecting the individual in various life situations. Its instructions
had been developed out of experience over the preceding centuries
and had virtually the status of civil law. It was compiled in
its final form by Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (c.135220 A.D.) but
had already been in effect for a long time One important section
dealt with criminal legislation under the heading Nezikin
("Damages"). Powell summed up his impressions of
this code by observing: *
It is sometimes said that the
law of England is unduly favourable to the accused; but the safeguards
in English law designed to reduce to a minimum the danger of
an innocent person being convicted are as nothing compared with
the "fences" put around an accused in a Jewish court.
Indeed, with so many "fences" it is a wonder that anybody
was ever convicted. But at the trial of Jesus these safeguards
against a miscarriage of justice were thrown to the winds, and,
judged by the Mishnah law standard, the proceedings ended in
a riot of illegality with the Accused condemned exactly as the
Presiding Judge and his colleagues had previously determined
should be the case.
single aspect of the trial of the Lord Jesus Christ contravened
these safeguards and made the whole affair a mockery. First of
all, for humane reasons, the Mishnah ruled that a capital
case could not be tried at night. * In contradiction of
this injunction, the Lord Jesus was taken straight from the Garden
of Gethsemane and tried at once.
Secondly, if the judgment went
against the accused, sentence could not be passed on the same
day as the trial. Since that night belonged to a day which did
not end till 6.00 p.m. of the following
* Powell, Frank J., The Trial of Jesus
Christ, London, Paternoster Press, 1949, p.80.
† Mishnah: Sanh. IV. 1 "Judgments in souls
are conducted by day and settled by day."
evening, the Lord should
not in that twenty-four hour period have had sentence passed
upon Him at all, let alone been executed. The sentence "He
is worthy of death," pronounced by the court within minutes
of declaring his guilt was wholly illegal. * Moreover, the same ruling laid down that no sentence
of death could be passed on a Sabbath or a Holy Day. Since it
was now the day of Passover, a Holy Day, it was strictly forbidden
to pass sentence: and since execution must be carried out within
twenty-four hours of judgment, the trial itself could not even
be legally held on that particular day! The illegality of the
proceedings was therefore doubly apparent and Caiaphas
and his court must have known this perfectly well.
According to E. M. Yamauchi, it
was only legal to pronounce the actual death sentence in the
so-called Hewn Chamber, in the innermost court of the Temple.† The
purpose of this was to have such a sentence pronounced away from
the excitement of the public court, in the seclusion of a restricted
area. But the death sentence was passed by this court in the
palace of Caiaphas and was therefore clearly out of order.
Again, an attempt must be made
to find witnesses who would speak for the accused, since
no unanimous verdict of guilty was allowable.‡
Here the purpose was to ensure that no one would be condemned
without having at least one other person to support him in the
ordeal. No effort was made as far as we know to honour this requirement.
There is no record that any single person was appointed to oppose
the verdict of guilty in order to provide at least one dissenting
Then again, when witnesses proved
false, they were to suffer the same penalty as the accused man
would have suffered, if it turned out that they showed themselves
to be false witnesses.◊ No
attention was paid to this "hedge" about the accused.
There is no evidence that the false witnesses were either punished
or even rebuked by the court, though their witness was proved
false by its inconsistency.
In the case of an accusation of
blasphemy punishable by stoning, it was required that the accused
should actually employ the sacred name
* Mishnah: Sanh. IV. 1 "Judgments
in souls are finished on the same day for clearing and on the
day after it for condemnation wherefore there can be no
judgments on Friday or on the eve of a festival."
† Yamauchi, Edwin M., "Historical Notes on the
Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ," Christianity
Today, 9 April, 1971, p.9.
‡ Mishnah, Sanh. IV. I "All must not express
an opinion for condemnation."
◊ Mishnah: Sanh. XI. 6 and
Makkoth 1.6 "False witnesses, are condemned to the
same death which they had intended [for the accused]." Compare
of the Lord in the statement
that was considered blasphemous. * The
Lord did not even use the word God, let alone the sacred
name Jehovah. It was Caiaphas who presented the question
to the Lord Jesus, in which the name of God was used. The Lord
merely answered in the affirmative: "Thou hast said."
Indeed, the Lord's reply to Caiaphas' question (Matthew 26:64)
seems to have been deliberately formulated with the express purpose
of giving no legal grounds for the immediate accusation
of 'Blasphemy.' Technically, by their own definition, He could
never have been accused of blasphemy. What had offended the Court
was the Lord's claim that He, the Son of Man, would descend from
heaven with the clouds. For Daniel had seen a vision in which
"the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel
7:13) and this vision was applied by the Jews to the appearance
of the Messiah. But although it may have seemed to them entirely
heretical, this was not actually blasphemy by their own legal
And lastly, the crowning illegality:
Jewish law expressly stated that a man condemned to death may
not be scourged before execution.† Yet
the Jewish authorities offered not the slightest protest when
Pilate scourged Jesus before He was crucified; nor did anyone
suggest for a moment that the act of scourging ought to have
prompted a delay in the execution of the death sentence until
his wounds had healed which was a further requirement of
Jewish law. It is just possible that Pilate knew of this injunction
and commanded the scourging for this very reason in hopes that
a delay in execution might give him time to find another way
out of his dilemma.
It is evident therefore that every
illegality imaginable was practiced at this trial. It is an interesting
fact that while these Jewish leaders had not the least moral
scruples about perjuring themselves before Pilate, religious
scruples prevented them from entering into his heathen place
of residence on a Holy Day. Pilate "went forth" to
tell them his findings after each questioning of Jesus. He did
not require them to come in before his judgment seat as he might
otherwise have done.
It is also evident that these judges
should have been disqualified from presiding, for they were by
no means unbiased. They had no liking for this Man. In the last
days of his public ministry, the Lord had challenged the two
chief ruling parties in the nation, the Pharisees and the Sadducees,
in a way that was almost fatal to them.
He had entered into the outer court
of the Temple and ejected those who exchanged money and sold
sacrificial animals. This
* Sanh. VIII.5.
† Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus
the Messiah, New York, Henick, 1886, vol.II, p.563.
business was under the
care of the Pharisees and brought them no little financial gain.
They were likely to lose this permanently if such interference
was not stopped.
And then He had raised Lazarus
from the dead, a fact which gave tremendous support to the popular
belief in resurrection but which the Sadducees categorically
denied. They believed that death was the end of existence and
that life must be enjoyed to the full, here and now. But here
was an undeniable case of a man truly and 'legally' dead (for
he had been dead the minimum number of three days required to
warrant a death certificate* ), publicly resurrected by One who
had assured everyone at the graveside that there would indeed
be a resurrection at the last day and furthermore that
He Himself would raise the dead. To validate his statement, He
had then calmly gone to the tomb and called Lazarus back to life.
This was a severely discrediting blow to the Sadducees.
Both parties thus
stood seriously in jeopardy, their reputations and their future
clearly at stake. Something had to be done to put an end to this
Man, not merely by having Him executed and possibly thereby turned
into a hero, but by having Him crucified and thereby wholly discredited.
Their object in this instance was
above all to invalidate the messianic claims of the Lord Jesus.
This could only be accomplished by one means: having Him crucified
and thereby rendering Him "accursed of God" according
to Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 21:23). Such a one would never again
be considered by the common people as a serious candidate for
the Messiahship. Thus their own position of privilege and authority,
so severely challenged over the past three years, would be secure.
Furthermore, the soundness of their
judgment of the impostor would be vindicated, for in their own
way they genuinely believed that they were acting in everybody's
interest. When, later, bystanders challenged the Lord Jesus to
come down from the cross as a proof of his Messiahship, they
were acting on this principle (Matthew 27:3943). Unless
God saved Him from the cross, or unless He saved Himself, He
must indeed be an impostor in their view. When the authorities
had said that if He were not stopped all men would come to believe
his claims, and the Romans to protect themselves would come and
take away their place and nation (John 11:48), they can only
have been assured in their own minds that He was not really the
promised Deliverer. Otherwise they would themselves have supported
his claims in
* Ryle, J. C., Expository Thoughts on the
Gospels, New York, Carter, 1881, vol.II, p.284. Here it is
stated that the rule was based on the accepted fact that "after
three days the countenance changes." See also Alfred Edersheim,
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, New York, Herrick
& Co., 1886, vol.II, p.325.
hopes of getting rid
of the Roman occupation.
They had already determined, even
before the trial, what the verdict should be. "The chief
priests and the elders and all the council sought for witness,
for some charge against Jesus to put Him to death" (Mark
14:55). Their witnesses were obviously false; their testimonies
did not agree and could not stand up in even this kind of a prejudiced
As a last resort, Caiaphas directly
challenged the Lord Jesus with a question which, if answered
in the affirmative, could at least be grounds for indictment
on a charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:6366). He said, "I
adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us whether thou
be the Messiah, the Son of God." As we have seen, Jesus
entirely frustrated their design, but added, "Nevertheless,
I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting
on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
Then the High Priest rent his clothes, saying, "He hath
spoken blasphemy. What think ye?" And they all answered,
"He is guilty of death."
The Lord Jesus was not guilty of blasphemy,
by their own definition. But it mattered not: for such a charge
brought a penalty of death and this was what they sought.
However, the sentence of death
for blasphemy was to be by stoning. While such a death would
put an end to Jesus' career, it could not invalidate his claims
to Messiahship in the eyes of the common people. In fact, it
might even make a martyr of Him. If only they could have Him
crucified, then He would indeed be discredited, for everyone
knew that a man hanged on a cross was not merely cursed by his
own society but cursed of God.
There was a further complication.
Under Roman rule, or at least under the Roman procurators of
whom Pilate was one, the Jews were not actually permitted to
execute a prisoner at all. They could condemn him to death in
their courts, but the charges must be presented to and confirmed
by the procurator who carried out the death sentence. Only in
one circumstance were the Jews permitted to put a Gentile to
death (even a Roman citizen) by immediate stoning, and this was
for trespassing past the middle wall of Partition in the Temple
which marked the boundary of the Court of the Gentiles.
In their own court they had "secured"
a death sentence which must now be referred to the Procurator.
They realized that they must bring an accusation against their
Prisoner which could be referred to Pilate with assurance of
a death sentence by crucifixion. Because this form of
punishment was considered so awful and so degrading, the Romans
limited it to the execution of slaves but no free man could be
so put to death except for treason. If they could
establish an accusation of treason, there was hope. . . . But
even in the Court
of Caiaphas the witnesses,
who would also appear before Pilate, could not agree in their
testimony. It was soon clear that such a charge could not really
be substantiated, for He had not forbidden the payment
of tribute to Caesar indeed, He had actually advised
the very opposite (Matthew 22:21).
In the end the main thrust of their
charge before Pilate was that Jesus had claimed to be a king
a charge which they hoped would be taken by Pilate as treasonable.
Even with such a shaky charge, their determination to secure
a penalty of crucifixion forced them into the next step. Only
Pilate could execute Jesus in this way, so to Pilate they must
It is difficult
to know from the records of history what kind of man Pilate really
was, whether he simply did not care about justice or was caught
up in events too large for him. Certainly when faced with the
Lord, he made a far better assessment of Him as a Man than the
Jewish authorities had done.
Pilate was astute enough to recognize
the charge that Jesus claimed to be a king was not really any
challenge to Caesar. In the presence of this regal figure he
asked without cynicism it seems to me "Art thou
then a king?" Powell speaks of the Lord's defense action
here as a case of "confession and avoidance." For the
Lord confessed that He was a king indeed, but not the sort of
king alleged by the Jews, a king who might seem to be a rival
to Caesar. He explained that his Kingdom was "not of this
world" otherwise his followers would have fought against
his seizure. Pilate did not ridicule this affirmative answer;
rather he went out to the waiting accusers and, to their chagrin,
said, "I find no fault in this man."
He had, perhaps, not reckoned with
the hostility of either the religious authorities or of the crowds
of people who had gathered outside for it was now fully
daylight. All Jerusalem seemed to be demanding that He be crucified,
be executed in the most terrible, most cruel, most degrading
way known to the Roman world. "Why? What evil hath he done?"
asked a bewildered Pilate.
It may be, that, knowing crowd
behaviour only too well, Pilate still supposed he could moderate
their hostility to the prisoner by an appeal to pity for
a broken man at any rate he must have had some reason for
what he did next. For returning to Jesus, he handed him over
to the brutal soldiery in the Common Hall to scourge Him and
abuse Him as they wished. Roman soldiers were hardened to physical
suffering. They were accustomed to seeing men torn asunder by
wild beasts or slaughtering each other by the hundreds without
mercy, for the entertainment of the degraded masses of the common
people who daily thronged the Coliseum in Rome and screamed for
blood. It is
a terrible thing when
such men are given authority to abuse the bodies of victims who
are helpless and unresisting, particularly of such a notable
prisoner as this who had so recently been acclaimed by the common
people as a man of tremendous power and authority. Sinful man
takes pleasure in seeing the righteous brought low.
The Lord Jesus the Creator
and Sustainer of the Universe could have demolished his
oppressors with a single word, or turned upon them with such
anger that they would have fled from his presence in terror.
But He didn't. He meekly submitted, willingly, "turning
his back to his smiters" (Isaiah 50:6), dumb as a lamb before
its shearers (Isaiah 53 :7). His very submission being mistaken
for weakness, provoked the brutality of the soldiers to express
itself so appallingly that when He finally emerged from their
presence He had been so abused that Isaiah had to search for
words to describe his appearance: he predicted that those who
beheld Him would be astonished, his face and body so marred
as to be scarcely recognizable as human (Isaiah 52:14).
The Lord Jesus had so absorbed
in Himself the hatred and cruelty and corruption of unrestrained
human wickedness, expressed both as spiritual venom by the Jews
and as physical abuse by the Romans, that it is difficult to
see how He remained conscious at all. That He could scarcely
even support Himself, let alone the crossbar on the way to the
crucifixion, is not surprising. Yet the crowds by and large seem
to have been aroused to no pity, apparently genuinely believing
that He had been a deceiver and was actually "stricken,
smitten of God" (Isaiah 53:4). And in a profound
sense they were perfectly right. As Isaiah (53:10) had put it:
"It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath
put Him to grief."
I believe that when Pilate presented
this battered figure before the people, he was hoping to present
Him as an object worthy of pity, now surely punished sufficiently
for whatever crime they were accusing Him. Hence his words, "Behold
the man!" As though he had said, "Just look at Him!
Is this not enough?" And perhaps when he offered to release
Him as an act of clemency (as his custom was at this time), he
genuinely hoped they would accept his offer, their appetite for
blood being finally appeased. But the appearance of the Lord
whom they had once believed would overthrow their Roman oppressors,
whom they now saw so utterly debased and apparently without the
slightest resistance, drove them to even greater frenzy, for
clearly He had proved Himself to be a deceiver indeed. "Crucify
Him!" they screamed with one voice, "Crucify Him!"
I think this turnabout in the attitude
of the common people was not really so surprising if it is borne
in mind that they had hoped for only one thing from the Messiah.
They were interested in his role as a conquering Deliverer of
the nation, not as a dying Saviour whose
sacrifice of Himself
would secure their personal forgiveness and reconciliation with
God. Had they, as a people, recognized his identity as the Lamb
of God, as Saviour in this sense, they might at the same time
have seen that his death was essential. But what then? Would
they have undertaken to condemn Him to death on that account?
It seems unlikely. Even less likely does it seem that they would
have insisted so vehemently upon his death by crucifixion.
And yet crucifixion was the only form of execution
which, as we shall see later, would have permitted the Lamb of
God to offer Himself as a vicarious sacrifice. He could not in
fact have made satisfaction for the sins of his people in any
other way. Their blindness seems to have been essential to the
fulfillment of God's purposes.
That Pilate did really hope for
some moderation of their hostility seems clear from his insistence
that the Lord Jesus should be released. In Luke 23:15 and 16
we find him saying, "Nothing worthy of death is done by
Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him."
And when he re-affirmed this intention (verse 20), we are told
that Pilate really was wishing to release Him. In verse
22 Pilate repeats this a third time: "I will therefore chastise
Him and let Him go."
Pilate had every reason for this
insistence. He clearly had himself become convinced of the Lord's
innocence, and he said, "I find in Him no fault at all"
(John 18:38). Again, later, he repeated, "I am innocent
of the blood of this just person" (Matthew 27:24). And once
more he declared, "Know ye that I find no fault in Him"
(John 19:4). What a testimony this was!
Meanwhile, his wife had sent him
a disturbing note saying, "Have nothing to do with that
just man; for I have suffered many things this day because of
Him" (Matthew 27:19). Even Judas had realized his mistake
but sought in vain to clear his conscience by returning the thirty
pieces of silver for which he had sold the Lord, saying, "I
have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew
27:4). And at the last, one of those crucified with Him and watching
Him in that final ordeal, rebuked his other companion in crime
with the words, "Dost thou not fear God seeing thou art
in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive
the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss"
(Luke 23:40, 41). What a triumph this was for the Lord Jesus!
And though He was not alive to hear the tribute, He would doubtless
have been comforted by the testimony of the Roman centurion in
command of the detail of soldiers charged with the execution
of the condemned prisoners. Witnessing the extraordinary events
which accompanied the Lord's expiration ("the earthquake
and those things that were done"), he was compelled to exclaim,
"Certainly this was a righteous man! Truly this was the
Son of God!" (Luke 23:47; Matthew 27:54).
But despite his inner convictions, Pilate was not
prepared to sacrifice his career for this man whom the people
were so determined to destroy. Yet he still seems to have made
one last token effort. Knowing that they had no authority to
crucify the accused, he challenged them perhaps with a
sneer "You do it!" (John 19:6). He must
have known full well that they would not have the stomach to
do it themselves, even if they did have his permission, and he
seems to have sought by this means to show his contempt.
But there is nothing so terrifying as
the roar of an angry crowd united in an ugly mood and bent upon
a destructive course of action. Faced with this situation and
unable to make his voice heard, Pilate washed his hands of the
whole affair publicly, making one final declaration that he was
innocent of the blood of this just Person. And then he handed
the Lord over to the soldiers for execution to satisfy the people.
It must have seemed to the Lord
as He stood there that the cross itself, despite the agony that
He knew it was to entail, would be almost a welcome relief from
the open hatred of this violent people in their pitiless mood.
We can know so little of his suffering that words fail us here
and we can only repeat the Word of God and trust that the Holy
Spirit will convey something of its sense to our hearts. "He
was bruised for our iniquities: punishment was upon Him
for our peace; by his stripes we are healed."
It is as though the festered core of man's wickedness was poulticed
and absorbed by Him He who alone was utterly without infection,
in order that our mortal wounds might be healed and we might
live. We avenge ourselves upon one another but our avenging is
never truly therapeutic because the one we try to hurt returns
our vengeance in one way or another. The Lord Jesus did not.
He accepted it entirely as though it was really his fault and
not ours. He embraced the physical and spiritual torment of our
sin, burying it in his own heart, praying that his tormentors
might be forgiven on the grounds that they did not know what
they were doing.
It was essential to
the working out of the Plan of Redemption that the Lord Jesus
Christ be thus condemned to death though innocent. He was "delivered
by the determinate council and foreknowledge of God" (Acts
2:23). It had to happen. Yet it was "by wicked hands"
He was taken and crucified and slain. For their motive
was not the desire to do God's will but to destroy a man whose
whole life was a challenge to their shabby pretenses. They could
not abide the white light of his absolute sinlessness.
If the trial of Jesus Christ proved
anything about human nature, it was that the heart is deceitful
above all things and desperately wicked
(Jeremiah 17:9). In
the presence of perfection, man is not filled with admiration
but with hate. Absolute holiness condemns us and we either seek
to escape from its presence or to ignore it. When we cannot do
either, we seek to destroy it. The trial proved man's need of
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Thus did the Lamb of God stand
before the bar of human judgment to be declared faultless as
a human being by Jew and Gentile alike, only to be a sin-offering
that we might be credited with his perfected righteousness in
the sight of God.
The Altar for this sacrifice was
a cross. Only a cross could have sufficed. For, as we shall see,
no other form of capital punishment could accommodate the events
which were necessary to make his death truly a sin-offering.