“What?! You Think We’re Lying?!?”

So Pilate came out to them and asked,  “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

“If He were not a criminal,”  they replied,  “we would not have handed Him over to you.”

Pilate said,  “Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,”  the Jews objected.  This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death He was going to die would be fulfilled.  John 18:29-32.

It’s interesting that Pilate actually gave them permission to judge Jesus their own way, but they were interested in humiliating Him beyond the means provided by the law through stoning.  From this text I gather they wanted Him crucified to make it seem He wasn’t even worthy of dying as a heretic Jew, they wanted Him to be treated like a gentile.  I don’t think the Romans would have cared if the Jews had taken Jesus out and stoned Him to death—what’s one less Jewish man to them but one less possible troublemaker?  In fact, from Pilate’s indifference to the case at first, I think He suspected they wanted to kill Jesus.

What other reason could they have of making sure the Romans condemned Him?  They already had laws which took care of those issues they needed to deal with in civil court, so why go to all the trouble of putting the case on the Roman radar?

They wanted to watch Him suffer to the point of complete and utter rejection as a Jew.  To be crucified in the mind of anyone Jewish from that era signified the ultimate rejection of God because in the Law it said,  Cursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree. Hanging Jesus on a cross would symbolize God’s rejection of Him in the eyes of the Jews and strike His name from His tribe, family and nation.  Sure, these leaders could have arranged for Jesus to be taken somewhere private and stoned to death for heresy, but that wasn’t enough for them, because they wanted to utterly destroy His influence.  I’m sure they executed people all the time without telling the Romans, and the Roman authorities in turn, probably ignored any evidence of it unless it affected their absolute power over the populace.

The words:  This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death He was going to die would be fulfilled, simply confirm my suspicion about their intent.  The Jewish leaders pursued capital punishment, the heaviest version of this being crucifixion, which usually meant a tree.  The Jews held that a man hung on a tree was cursed, thus the fact of Jesus hanging on a tree would leave no doubt He was under God’s curse.  Never mind they couldn’t convict Him of anything treasonous or even blasphemous, these men were determined to rid themselves of a thorn in their sides.  Not only that, but in a propaganda war, facts such as seeing Jesus on a cross would leave doubt in the minds of even the most dedicated followers.

The addiction humans have for sameness is pretty well documented.  Those in power have always exploited the fear of change to rid themselves of unwanted people in their way—or punish those whom they perceive slighted them.  So it’s not so out of character for these men to crave the sameness of their national identity, spiritual and civil power as well as the culture that had developed since their return from exile.

But Pilate didn’t ask about their earnestness or honesty, he asked,  “What charges do you bring against this man?” I surmise their own guilty conscience caused them to answer,  “If He were not a criminal, we would not have handed Him over to you.” They avoided the question by protesting their “flawless” character, a thing Pilate knew to be a complete facade.  Standard practice in courts all through the history of mankind—even kangaroo courts—someone had to present the charges against the accused or it would be thrown out.  The Jews gave this defensive reply to Pilate’s question because they heard the skepticism in His voice, or they felt guilty for bringing an innocent man to trial.

So what other reason would occur to Pilate to make him suspect these leaders of something underhanded?  If his question brought out their defensiveness, it means they had tried to abuse the system on prior occasions.  In other words, they had attempted (and most likely succeeded) in railroading others who offended them or threatened their absolute power over the government of Israel—with Rome’s permission, of course.  It also means Pilate had refused on occasion to be manipulated by their shenanigans (the Jews and Pilate had a long standing contentious relationship that ended in Pilate being replaced years later by Caesar).

Pilate probably wasn’t all that interested in justice if it went against his ambitions, but where it met up with his career security, he most definitely didn’t want to jeopardize his reputation with those above him.  When we look at a public court we see (hopefully) impartial people judging by the established laws from the facts alone not bias, preference or bribery.  This type of court has only been a reality for the last century for most American/European citizens, and even that history has been rife with payoffs and scandals.  Attempting to make Pilate into some kind of saintly judge who got railroaded by politics is to misunderstand his character and history.  The man could be coldly efficient when facing military or civil trouble, and downright bad news if you crossed him.  His interest in Jesus probably went no further than curiosity at this stage, though as he got familiar with the case and things unfolded he grew more fascinated.

Pilate also knew the only reason why the Jewish leaders brought criminals or people they judged as dangerous to them to a Roman court:  capital punishment.  Rome forbid capital punishment to be carried out by any government but their own—a means of enforcing and reminding their subjects of their supremacy.  Pilate knew they wanted to kill the man they brought to him, he just didn’t care to be bothered by their idiotic (to him) religious wrangling.  In effect, he was giving them permission to punish Jesus in any way they deemed sufficient as long as they didn’t kill Him.

Their reply basically forced his involvement in the case, and I would guess, irritated him somewhat.  His reluctance to be involved or just plain indifference to their request to judge Jesus shows he thought the Jews’ to be a nuisance.  He had already experienced their power with Rome, since they had complained several times about his heavy handed methods and uncooperative attitude.  Their sheer persistence and his capitulation came as a direct result of the reprimands from his bosses.

All this sets up the scene which follows.

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