From a Jewish Trial to a Roman One
Text: Matthew 27 : 1 - 31
Jesus was tried and sentenced by the Great Sanhedrin. The conclusion that was reached, sentencing Him to death was not a surprising one. The so-called trial was nothing but a farce. Long before sentence was passed, the verdict was already a foregone conclusion.
The Sanhedrin Council had no judicial powers to sentence a person to death. For that they would have to seek or more correctly to procure the aid of the Roman procurator. Pontius Pilate succeeded Valerius Gratus as the procurator in 26 AD. He had a very strangely long tenure as the governor of the region that covered both Judea and Samaria.
A BRIEF BACKGROUND OF PONTIUS PILATE
Little is known about the earlier years of Pontius Pilate. His friendship with a powerful Roman called Sejanus secured for him the office of a procurator. Sejanus himself was very closely allied with Tiberius Caesar.
Pilate was accorded more powers than previous administrators. He was not only responsible for the financial administration of the region, he was also given fairly wide judicial powers. Thus the Sanhedrin Council had to seek his help to sentence Jesus to death.
The usual tenure of office for a Roman procurator was between one year to three years. Pilate had one of the longest tenures. He was the procurator from 26-36 AD. This may well be the result of Tiberius Caesar’s policy of keeping the governors in their provinces for as long as no serious complaints were raised against him.
Pilate was secure in his office as long as he was in the good books of Tiberius. He lost his office soon after Tiberius Caesar died. His tenure of office was not well remembered by the Jewish historian Josephus. He was detested for his callousness towards Jewish religious sensitivities.
The synoptist Luke made a note of the cruelty and merciless way in which Pilate put down any real or suspected rebellion.
“There were present at that season some who told Him
about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled
with their sacrifices.”
This note accords well with other reports of his cruelty to the subjects he ruled in Caesar’s name. He was finally deposed by the Roman legate Vitellius in 36 AD for the ruthless way in which he sought to put down a Samaritan uprising! He was sent back to Rome because of many complaints raised against him. With the death of Tiberius Caesar and Sejanus as well, there was no one left to protect him from the whimsical wrath of the next Caesar, Caligula.
SENDING JESUS TO PILATE FOR TRIAL
The Sanhedrin Council had sat through the night to try Jesus. This was an unusual assembly indeed. Its legality might well be questioned. (But who was there to question the Sanhedrin Council concerning the regularity of the trial held in the night?) The Council decided that they must pursue this case with the utmost speed, for the Passover and The Feast of Unleavened Bread was just around the corner.
“When morning came, all the chief priests and elders
of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.
And when they had bound Him, they led Him away
and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.”
Their decision to put Jesus to death held fast. The proceedings in the night, the pronouncement that He deserved death because He had blasphemed, and the beating of Jesus had done nothing except to confirm that He was to be put to death. The problem of course lay with the fact that the final decision did not lie in their hands. Hence the use of the word “plotted”.
The chief priests and the elders had to hatch another plot, just as insidious and as wicked. This time the plot would involve getting Jesus convicted in a Roman court of law, presided by Pontius Pilate. Anything could go wrong. The Roman procurator might well deny their request just to spite them. The chief priests and the elders knew all too well that Pilate could do just that, if he felt like it. Thus they had to “plot” how they could put Jesus to death.
They couldn’t openly offer a bribe to Pilate! Nor could they say that Jesus was convicted of blasphemy against God. Unless Jesus was proven guilty of having committed a crime that demanded capital punishment, Pilate could well refuse to sentence Jesus. If that happened, then all the efforts of the chief priests and elders would be in vain.
1. “When morning came…”
The Gospel of John added this observation about the morning hour that the synoptic Gospels noted.
“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium,
and it was early morning…”
The chief priests and elders decided that the trial of Jesus must begin at the earliest possible hour. The Romans began their day at 6.00am! Jesus was brought to Pilate in the “early morning” indeed. Such was the hatred and the desperation of the Jews to get Jesus tried, sentenced and put to death – all within the next few hours!
2. “When they had bound Him, they led Him away…”
First impressions matter. The Jews wanted Pilate to have the worse possible first impression of Jesus when he met Him. He was already badly bruised. He was also bound.