WHEN PILATE sent Jesus to King Herod, he felt relieved, for he was unwilling on one hand to order Jesus, an innocent man, to be put to death; and on the other hand, he did not wish to offend the Jewish rulers by setting Jesus free. He thought that he had gotten rid of his difficulties, when suddenly he found Jesus brought back to him, and the priests clamoring as before, that he should be put to death.
Pilate very unwillingly sat down again upon his throne, compelled to hold the trial of Jesus once more, and unable to avoid making a decision upon his case. Just as he was about to begin the new trial of Jesus, a message from his wife came to him, which added to his anxiety and his alarm. Pilate’s wife sent this word to him :
“My husband, I ask you not to allow any harm to come to that good man; for this day I have been very unhappy on account of a dream about him.”
This message made Pilate all the more desirous not to yield to the Jews and put Jesus to death. He thought of a new plan to save the life of Jesus; and with this in mind he said to the chief priests and the leaders :
“You brought before me this man charged with the crime of trying to lead the people to rise up against the government, and I have looked into his case, and have found the charges false. He has not done the things that you accuse him of ; and there is nothing wicked in his acts, so far as I can see. Nor has Herod found any fault with him, for he has sent him back. He has done nothing that demands death. But he deserves some punishment for causing all this excitement and stir. I will order him to be well beaten, and then set free.”
But with one voice, they all cried out, “Away with this fellow ! To the cross with him ! Don’t release him : release to us Barabbas!”
It was a custom that at the Feast of the Passover, as a sign of the gladness of the time, to set free some prisoner, whatever man in prison the people should call for. There was at that time in the prison a man named Barabbas, who had led a party of Jews against the Roman rulers, and in the fight had killed a man. He had been condemned to die, but the people did not think any the less of him because he had fought against the Romans, whom they also hated, and whom ‘they would gladly drive out of the land if they were not afraid of their power. The crowd began calling out to Pilate to do as had been done every year, and set free some prisoner.
“Are you willing,” asked Pilate “that I should free this man Jesus, the King of the Jews?”
But the chief priests and, the Jewish rulers went around among the crowd, and persuaded them to ask, not for Jesus, but for Barabbas. And the people shouted out, as if they were all one man :
“We will not have this man; we will have Barabbas!”
This was not what Pilate had looked for. He had thought that according to the custom of the feast he might set Jesus free and still please the people. He said to the crowd:
“What then shall I. do with Jesus, the man whom they call Christ?”
“Send him to the cross ! Let him die on the cross!” they roared with all their might.
“Why, what wicked thing has he done?” asked Pilate of the crowd. “I find nothing on his part that deserves death. I will have him beaten, and let him go!”
Then, at Pilate’s command, the soldiers took Jesus into the guard room. They stripped off all his clothes, tied him to one of the pillars, and beat him with heavy whips, which tore into his flesh. To mock him, as one who called himself “King,” they put on him a cloak of scarlet color; they wove together a wreath of thorns, and pressed it on his head until the blood streamed out; they placed in his hand a reed, as if it were a scepter held by a king; they fell down on their knees before him, and said to him: “Long live the King of the Jews!” They struck him with their hands, over and over again; they beat him with the reed; and they spat in his face.
Pilate thought that if the people could see Jesus as he was, crowned with thorns, and covered with blood, they would feel pity for him, and not call for him to be put to death. He said to the Jews :
“I will bring him out for you to see; but understand, I cannot find anything wrong in him.”
Then they brought Jesus out on the steps of the palace. His face was stained with blood; on his head was the wreath of thorns; and on his shoulders was the scarlet cloak. And Pilate said to the crowd :
“See, here is the man ! ”
But if Pilate hoped that the sight of Jesus, so woeful and sad, would arouse the pity of the people, he soon found himself mistaken. Led by the chief priests and their officers, they cried out with loud voices :
“To the cross with him! Let him be crucified!”
To be crucified was to be fastened with nails on a cross, which was then stood up, and left standing until the suffering man was dead. This was what the crowd of Jews before Pilate’s palace called upon him to do with Jesus who had done no harm, but only good!
Pilate answered them: “You can take him and crucify him, if you choose. I will have nothing to do with it; for I can not find that he has done anything wicked.”
The rulers of the Jews answered Pilate : “But we have a law; and by our law he must die, because he has made himself out to be the Son of God ! ”
When Pilate heard that, he was still more afraid, for there seemed to him something strange in this man Jesus. He did not know what to do. He went inside the palace and took Jesus with him.
“Where do you come from?” said Pilate to Jesus.
Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate said to him :
“You will not speak to me? Don’t you know that it is in my power either to set you free, or to send you to the cross, just as I please?”
“You would have no power over me,” answered Jesus, “if it had not been given you from one who is above. God gave you that power to use for the right and not for the wrong. There is one man whose sin is greater than yours; and that is the high priest who brought me to you!” Jesus meant to have Pilate understand that he was only a weak man, yielding to the will of the high priest, and that he as the governor should have a mind of his own and do only what was right in God’s sight.
All this made Pilate the more anxious not to put Jesus to death, but to set him free. But the rulers of the Jews shouted aloud to him :
“If you set this man free, who has called himself a king, you are no friend to Caesar, the emperor at Rome! Anyone who calls himself a king sets himself above the emperor who is over us all!”
Pilate knew that Caesar the emperor was very jealous and would be very angry if he knew that any man was trying to make himself a king. Very unwillingly, Pilate made up his mind that it would be safer for himself to let Jesus be put to death, rather than to make the emperor at Rome his enemy. So Pilate again took his seat upon the throne, and had Jesus brought before him. It was now the time of sunrise, six o’clock in the morning. Pilate said to the Jews :
“Here is your king!”
“Kill him! kill him!” yelled the Jews. “Crucify him ! Crucify him ! ”
“This fellow is not our king,” shouted the priests and rulers. “We have no king but Caesar the emperor!”
Pilate tried to show the Jews that the act of putting Jesus to death was their deed, not his. He sent for a basin of water, and in presence of them all washed his hands. Then holding out his hands, he called out to the people :
“My hands are clean from this good man’s blood! I tell you that he has done nothing to deserve death ! This is your doing, not mine ! ”
“This blood be on us, and on our children who come after us,” answered the Jews.
Then Pilate, sitting on his throne, gave sentence that it should be as they wished, that Barabbas, a robber and a murderer, should be set free, and that Jesus, who had done no harm, but only good, should be sent to the cross.