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A Synopsis of Paper 185: The Trial Before Pilate

Pontius Pilate had committed several errors early in his administration which incurred the displeasure of the emperor Tiberius. This situation gave the Judean Jewish leaders some leverage over Pilate. They had learned to use the threat of civil uprising to manipulate him.

The Sanhedrin brought Jesus before Pilate and asked permission to have him executed. Written charges were presented: perverting the nation and stirring people to rebellion, forbidding the people to pay tribute to Caesar, claiming to be king of the Jews and founding a new kingdom.

Jesus had not been legally convicted of any of these charges. Neither Jesus nor John responded to them when read aloud. Pilate was convinced that the proceeding was irregular and took Jesus and John into an inner chamber for a private examination.

After dismissing the first two charges, Pilate asked Jesus if he were king of the Jews and whether he was trying to found a new kingdom. Jesus replied, "Do you not perceive that my kingdom is not of this world?" Pilate asked, "Then you are a king after all?" Jesus answered, "Yes, I am such a king, and my kingdom is the family of the faith sons of my Father who is in heaven."

Pilate did not understand Jesus but he was convinced that he was nothing but a harmless visionary. He went back outside and told the priests that he had questioned Jesus and found no fault in him. The crowd became angry. One of the Sanhedrin declared that Pilate would long regret letting Jesus go.

Pilate, feeling pressured, announced that since Jesus was a Galilean he would send him to Herod, who had jurisdiction over Galilee. Jesus was brought before Herod but refused to answer Herod's questions. Herod sent him back to Pilate.

Pilate still wanted to set Jesus free. It had long been the custom to release a condemned man at Passover. It occurred to Pilate that he could release Jesus under this excuse. But the crowd called for the release of Barabbas, a man condemned for robbery and murder. Pilate was angry that the Jews requested mercy for a murderer instead of Jesus, but was afraid to defy the aroused Jews. "What shall I do with him who is called the king of the Jews?" And the crowd shouted, "Crucify him!" Pilate responded, "Why would you crucify this man? What evil has he done?" But they continued to cry out for his crucifixion.

Pilate decided to try one more tactic. He ordered the guards to scourge Jesus, hoping that this punishment would be enough to appease the crowds' anger. When the punishment ended, Pilate brought the prisoner before the crowd. The sight of the Master at this point was enough to send "a mighty shudder through the realms of a vast universe," but the crowd continued to shout for his death. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, but he was unwilling to defy the Jewish leaders. Pilate released Barabbas.

Pontius Pilate's life ended in suicide. His wife Claudia became a believer in Jesus and contributed to the spread of the gospel.

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