ALTHOUGH the high council of the Jews had given sentence upon Jesus that he should be put to death, they could not kill him without the consent of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; for long before this the Romans had taken away from the Jews the right to put any man to death. So, very early in the morning, before sunrise, the chief priests and rulers brought Jesus to the castle where the governor was staying. His home was in the city of Cwsarea, nearly sixty miles away, on the sea-coast; but at the time of the Passover, when the city was crowded with people from every part of the land, he usually came to Jerusalem to see that it was kept quiet and in order; and at this time he stayed in a castle north of the Temple, called “The Castle of Antonia.”
The Jews had condemned Jesus to die, because, as they claimed, he had said that he was the Son of God; and that claim according to their laws was a high crime, deserving of death. Jesus was the Son of God, and as God’s Son they should have honored him and obeyed his teachings. But they knew very well that Pilate would not care for their law, and would not order Jesus put to death merely because Jesus had said that he was the Son of God. So they undertook to find something against Jesus which was contrary to the laws of the Romans; and the charge which they resolved to make was that Jesus had spoken against the Roman rule, and had declared that he himself was the King of the Jews. He was, indeed, a king, but not such a king as would be against the Romans or their government.
The Jews came to the castle, and standing outside, called for Pilate to come from the room where he was sleeping, and give judgment upon a law-breaker whom they had brought to him. They hoped that Pilate would do as they wished, without looking closely into the matter. He came down, and sat upon his throne as a judge, and said:
“What is the charge which you bring against this man?”
“If he were not a wicked man, one who has broken the laws, we would not have brought him to you,” they answered.
“Well,” said Pilate, “if he has broken the laws of the land, take him to your own court and punish him.”
“We found this man,” said the Jewish rulers, “everywhere leading the people away from their rulers. He forbids them to pay the tax to the Roman emperor, Csar, telling the people that he is Christ, the King of the Jews. He ought to be put to death for stirring the people up against the government, and we ask you to give sentence against him.”
Pilate began at once to be very suspicious of these Jewish rulers. He knew that they themselves hated the Roman power, and that they would never wish to have anybody punished for opposing it. He looked at Jesus, standing bound and helpless among them, and he thought that this man could not be a dangerous enemy. Pilate said to them:
“Bring this man to me. I wish to speak with him.” Jesus was led up to the foot of the steps to Pilate’s judgment throne; and Pilate asked him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered the governor, “Do you ask this of your own accord, or did others tell you that I am a king?”
“Do you take me for a Jew ? ” asked Pilate. “Your own people and the priests have brought you before me, saying that you have claimed to be a king. Now tell me, what have you done?”
“My rule as a king does not belong to this world,” said Jesus. “If my kingdom were of this world, my men would fight to keep me from being given up to the Jews; but my kingdom is not here on the earth.”
“Then you are a king!” said Pilate.
“You speak the truth, I am a king,” said Jesus. “I was born for this: I came into the world for this, that I should speak in behalf of the truth. Every one who is on the side of truth listens to my words.”
“Truth ! What is truth?” said Pilate. Then he went out of the hall and spoke to the Jewish rulers :
“I do not find anything wrong in this man.”
This decision of Pilate made the Jews very angry, for they had hoped that he would approve their sentence without asking many questions; and now they found that he was willing to set Jesus free. Pilate thought that Jesus was a harmless man, perhaps not quite right in his mind in believing that he was a king.
But the rulers would not cease their charges against Jesus. They said to Pilate, “This man stirs up the people everywhere, and makes trouble. He began in Galilee; and now he has come here.”
“What,” said Pilate, “does this man come from Galilee? Then he belongs to the rule of King Herod; and Herod is now here in Jerusalem. Take him to Herod, and let Herod decide his case.”
This Pilate said merely because he wished to avoid deciding it himself. He knew that Jesus had broken no law, and should be set free; but he did not wish to displease the Jewish rulers, and he thought to rid himself of the matter by sending Jesus to be tried before Herod, the ruler of Galilee.