Then second, they led Him to Pilate to get the Roman sanction for
the execution of this sentence. Here they changed their ground
completely, and charged Him as being an insurrectionary and a rival to
Caesar. Jesus confessed Himself to be the King of the Jews, yet Pilate
declared Him to be faultless. This might seem a surprising declaration,
but Mark gives us a peep behind the scenes when he tells us that Pilate
knew that the fierce hatred of the religious leaders was inspired by
envy. Hence he began by refusing to be the tool of their grudge, and
availed himself of the Lord's connection with Galilee to send Him to
Herod. The accusation, "He stirreth up the people," was indeed true;
but He stirred them up towards God, and not against Caesar.
So, third, there was the brief appearance of the Lord before Herod,
who was eager to see Him, hoping to witness something sensational. Here
again the chief priests and scribes vehemently accused Him, but in the
presence of that wicked man, whom He had previously characterized as,
"that fox," Jesus answered nothing. His dignified silence only moved
Herod and his soldiers to abandon all pretence of administering
justice, and descend to mockery and ridicule. In His humiliation His
judgment was taken away.
Hence Herod returned Him to Pilate, and here the fourth and last
stage of His trial began. But before we are told of Pilate's further
efforts to placate the accusers and release Jesus, Luke puts on record
how both he and Herod buried their enmity that day in condemning Him.
The same tragedy has been often repeated since. Men of wholly different
character and view have found a point of unity in their rejection of
Christ. Herod was given up to his pleasures and utterly indifferent:
Pilate, though possessed of some sense of what was right, was a
time-server and hence ready to do wrong for popularity's sake; but they
came to an agreement here.
The story of the final scenes of the trial are given with brevity in
verses 13-26. Not one word spoken by our Lord is put on record: all is
presented as a matter lying between Pilate and the people instigated by
the chief priests; yet certain things stand out very clearly. In the
first place, abundant witness is given that Jesus was faultless. Pilate
had stated this during the earlier examination (verse 4), and now he
repeats it twice (verses 14, 22), and states it for a fourth time as
being Herod's verdict (verse 15). God took care that there should be
abundant and official witness to this.
Then the blind unreasoning fury of His accusers is made abundantly
manifest. They merely shouted for his death. Again, the choice they
made as an alternative to His release stands out with crystal
clearness. Twice in these verses Barabbas is identified with sedition
and murder; that is, he was the living embodiment of the two forms in
which evil is so frequently presented in Scripture-corruption, and
violence; or, to put it in another way, we see the power of Satan
working, both as a serpent, and as a roaring lion. Lastly we see that
the condemnation of Jesus was the result of the weakness of the judge,
who "delivered Jesus to their will." He represented the autocratic
power of Rome, but he abdicated it in favour of the will of the people.
The crucifixion scenes occupy verses 27-49. We are struck by the
fact that right through nothing happened in an ordinary way. Everything
was unusual-supernatural, or bordering upon the supernatural. It was
quite usual for professional wailing women to appear on these
occasions, but wholly unusual for them to be told to weep for
themselves, or to hear a prophecy of coming doom. Jesus Himself was the
"green tree," according to Psalm 1, and perhaps He was alluding to the
parable of Ezekiel 20: 45-49. In that scripture God predicts a flame
upon every green tree and every dry tree. Judgment fell upon the "green
tree" when Christ suffered for our sakes. When the fire breaks out in
the dry tree of apostate Jews, it will not be quenched.
Then the prayer of Jesus as they crucified Him was wholly unexpected
and unusual. He desired the Father, in effect, that the sin of the
people might be counted not as murder, for which there was no
forgiveness, but as manslaughter, so that there might yet be available
a city of refuge, even for His murderers. An answer to that prayer was
seen some fifty days later, when Peter in Jerusalem preached salvation
through the risen Christ, and 3,000 souls fled for refuge. The prayer
was unusual because it was the fruit of such Divine compassions as had
never come to light before.
The actions of the various people involved in His crucifixion were
unusual. Men do not ordinarily taunt and revile even the worst
criminals undergoing capital punishment. Here all classes did so, even
rulers soldiers, and one of the malefactors who suffered at His side.
The power of the devil and of darkness had seized their minds.
Pilate's superscription was unexpected. Having condemned Him as a
false claimant of kingship amongst the Jews, he wrote a title
proclaiming Him to be the King of the Jews, and, as another Gospel
shows, he refused to alter it. This was the overruling of God.
The sudden conversion of the second thief was wholly supernatural.
He condemned himself, and justified Jesus. Having justified Him, he
owned Him as Lord and proclaimed-virtually, though not in so many
words- his belief that God would raise him from the dead, so as to
establish him in His kingdom. He fulfilled the two conditions of Romans
10: 9, only he believed that God would raise Him from the dead, instead
of believing, as we do, that God has raised Him from the dead. The
faith of the dying thief was a gem of the first order, beside which our
faith today loses its sparkle. It is much more remarkable to believe
that a thing shall be done, when as yet it is not done, than to believe
that a thing is done, when it is done. And further, it was most unusual
that a malefactor should wish to be remembered by the King, when His
kingdom was established. Malefactors usually slink into the dark and
wish to be forgotten by the authorities. His wish to be remembered
shows his faith in the grace of the suffering Lord equalled his faith
in His coming glory.
The response of Jesus to the thief's prayer was wonderful and
unexpected indeed! Not merely in the coming kingdom but that very day
he was to experience grace reaching beyond death, and landing his
ransomed spirit into companionship with Christ in Paradise. Now
Paradise and the third Heaven are identified in 2 Corinthians 12: 24.
These words of the Lord were the first definite revelation of the fact
that immediately death supervenes the spirits of the saints are to be
in conscious blessedness with Christ.
If everything was unusual, on the human side, when Jesus died, there
were also supernatural manifestations from the hand of God; and of
these verses 44 and 45 speak. The three brightest hours of the day were
darkened, by the sun being veiled. There was something very fitting in
this, for the true "Sun of Righteousness" was bearing our sin at that
time. Also the veil of the temple was rent by a Divine hand, signifying
that the day of the visible temple system was now over, and the way
into the holiest about to be made manifest-see, Hebrews 9: 8. Our true
"Sun" was veiled for a moment, enduring our judgment, that there might
be no veil between us and God.
Luke does not record the Saviour's cry as to the Divine forsaking,
uttered about the time that the darkness passed away, nor the
triumphant shout, "It is finished," though he does put on record that
He "cried with a loud voice," and that then His closing words were,
"Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." In these closing words on
the cross we see the One, who all along had been marked by prayerful
submission to the will of God, closing His path as the perfect,
dependent Man. Having said this, He yielded up His spirit; yet we see
He is more than Man, for at one moment there was the loud voice, His
vigour unimpaired, and the next moment He was dead. In every sense His
was a supernatural death.
Testimony to this was borne by the centurion who witnessed the scene
by reason of his official duty. Even the crowds drawn together by
morbid curiosity were moved to uneasy fear and foreboding, and those
who were His friends retreated into the distance. The centurion became
a fourth witness to the perfection of Jesus, joining Pilate, Herod and
the dying thief.
The prophetic writings had said, "Lover and friend hast Thou put far
from Me" (Psalm 88: 18), but they had also said, "He made His grave . .
. with the rich in His death" (Isaiah 53: 9). If verse 49 gives us the
fulfilment of the one, verses 50-53 give us the fulfilment of the
other. In every emergency God has in reserve an instrument to effect
His purpose and fulfil His word. Joseph is mentioned in all four
Gospels, and John informs us that up to this point he had been a secret
disciple for fear of the Jews. Now he acts with boldness when all
others were cowed, and the new, untainted tomb is available for the
sacred body of the Lord. Not even by the faintest contact did He "see
corruption." Men had intended otherwise, but God serenely fulfilled His