The Failure of the Jewish Judicial System
Text: Matthew 27 : 1 - 31
Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin Council showed up the terrible defects of its judicial system. The judicial system was supposed to operate on ancient Mosaic laws that was second to none insofar as morality and justice were concerned. No laws could have been more humane and God-centered simultaneously than that prescribed in the laws of Moses. The failure of the judicial system of Israel was not due to the infrastructure as such, but must be traced to the wicked capriciousness of ungodly men who merely paid lip service to God and His laws. The judicial system was no more than a legal tool used to serve selfishly wanton purposes!
HOW WOULD JESUS FARE UNDER ROMAN JUSTICE?
Jesus stood condemned by the Sanhedrin Council. He was now sent to be tried under Roman law. How would He fare under that system?
“Now Jesus stood before the governor.
And the governor asked Him, saying,
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
Jesus said to Him, ‘It is as you say.'”
1. No Jury
There wasn’t a jury in the Roman judicial system. Every case tried was to be decided by the procurator or governor.
2. The power of the procurator (governor)
a) The many roles of the governor
i) He functioned as the financial administrator of Rome. He was to ensure that all taxes were paid promptly.
ii) He was also the chief military personnel. He represented the might of Rome. As procurator he had 3000 Roman troops at his command. He had wide military powers. Only the Roman legate in Syria could overrule his decision.
iii) He also played the role of a judge. He had judicial and administrative powers as well.
b) How well were Roman governors trained as judges?
Was Pilate legally trained to handle cases that were brought to him? Apparently not. Roman governors were more military men than trained to administer justice!
i) The Roman judicial system was not codified at this point of time!
ii) If governors were in doubt, they could always write to the emperor for guidance.
iii) There were a few laws that all Roman governors were to bear in mind. These laws were quite uncomplicated. They were to maintain the Pax Romana – the peace of Rome. They were to ensure that no one questioned the power of Rome.
iv) Much depended on the experience and wisdom of each individual governor. If he were a man of integrity, he would do his best to uphold justice to the best of his knowledge. If he were a corrupt individual, he could get away with a lot of things. The power given to him by Rome was most significant! Life and death were in his hands!
THE APPROACH OF PILATE
Pilate’s questioning of Jesus was both direct and telling. He asked if Jesus thought Himself as “The king of the Jews”. That was his prime concern. Was Jesus one of the many who would arise from time to time, to challenge the might of Rome? The Jews loved their independence. Judea enjoyed independence before General Pompey conquered the region in 64 BC. King Herod the Great, sometimes called King Herod the Cruel, through shrewd politics won for himself the title of “king”. However, after his death, his kingdom was split into three. His sons had to be content with ruling a divided kingdom. Judea was to have a Roman procurator as well. The powers of the Jewish ethnarch (“king”) were limited.
The main concern of the Roman governor was to ensure the peace and power of Rome. If Jesus posed a political threat to Rome, Pilate’s course of action was clear. He would nip the problem in the bud. He could use whatever means he thought fit to quell any attempted uprising. Was Jesus “king of the Jews”?
Jesus’ reply was enigmatic. “It is as you say.” He did not deny the charge that Pilate raised up. How should Pilate understand this reply?
1. Jesus was no military man
That would be the most obvious thing to note. He had no army. He did not have a military bearing about Him. How was He king?
2. Jesus was no politician either
Pilate knew what politics were like in Rome. Political fortunes rose and fell depending on many factors, the most obvious was “men of means and influence”. However, Jesus was no politician. That was obvious too. No one should fear a Man like Jesus where politics were concerned!
3. Jesus was a thorn in the flesh to the Jews
A third fact became obvious. The Jewish hierarchy wanted Pilate to find him guilty of treason so that He could be put to death!
Pilate had the power to decide either way. He could reject the charges of the Jews outright, and Jesus would be a free man. He could also find Jesus guilty and He could be sentenced to death. A man’s life hung in the balance. How should he decide?