Our Savior’s Mock Trial
“And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:11-26)
Here the Judge of all the earth stood before wicked men to be judged by them! He that shall soon judge the world in righteousness was judged most unrighteously. He that shall one day set upon the throne of judgment with ten thousands of his saints and angels stood as a prisoner before the bar of reprobate men. Never in the pages of history was justice so violently and deliberately abused. The Son of God was denied the rights of justice given to a common thief or murderer. Before one witness was produced to testify against him, before any evidence was weighed, the Lord of glory was beaten, mocked, stripped, and abused by vile, God hating men. Who can comprehend the depths of humiliation endured by the God-man? That one “Who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” now “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, ever the death of the cross.”
Judas made good on his bargain to betray our Lord. No sooner did he kiss the Savior than the high priests had his hands bound and led him away. These wolves of the night were thirsty, longing to be sucking the blood of the Lamb of God. Their revenge and malice would not allow any delay. They could not sleep until they had his precious, innocent blood. Therefore, they resolved to kill him as soon as possible. But, so that it would not look like downright murder, they formalized it with a mock trial.
You are familiar with the story. Let me just remind you of the events of that night. Our Redeemer was arrested in the garden and hurried along the road which crosses the brook of Kidron, like David before him, who passed over that brook, weeping as he went. The brook Kidron was that into which all the filth of the temple sacrifices was thrown. Our blessed Savior was led to that black stream, as though he were some foul and filthy thing. He was led into Jerusalem by the sheep-gate, the gate through which the passover lambs were led.
Little did those men understand that they were fulfilling to the very letter those types which God had ordained by the law of Moses. These wicked men led the Lamb of God to slaughter. May the Lord himself sanctify our hearts as we follow our Redeemer through his trial and cruel mockery. First, they led Immanuel to the house of Annas, the ex-high priest, to gratify that bloodthirsty wretch with the sight of his victim. Then, they hurriedly brought the Son of God to the house of Caiaphas, where the members of the Sanhedrim were assembled, to take counsel against the Lord and against his Anointed. Next, they took the Lamb of God through the streets to Pilate’s judgment hall. There they sought a legal sentence of execution to be pronounced upon God’s Holy One. Pilate sent the bloodthirsty mob to Herod, the governor of Galilee. Finally, the Lord of Glory is returned to Pilate’s judgment hall, where he is tried, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to die. This is where we find him in the passage before us. Though nothing worthy of bonds or of death could be found in him, our Lord Jesus Christ was condemned to be nailed to a cross and there to hang until he died.
It was the intention of these wicked men to make it appear that Jesus Christ was a sinful man, worthy of death. But, by their deeds, God proved his complete innocence, and showed beyond every shadow of doubt that our Lord Jesus Christ is “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.”
Remember, our Lord was about to be offered up as the Lamb of God, a Sacrifice for Sin. The sacrificial lamb must be examined to be sure that it had no blemish. So it was necessary that the Lamb of God be found by those who crucified him to be “a Lamb without blemish and without spot.” The over-ruling hand of God so ordered the events of his trial that even when his enemies were his judges, they could find no fault and prove nothing against him.
The Son of God was examined on three separate occasions. They took him from one judge to another, from one court to another, seeking some grounds for putting him to death. He was first examined by an ecclesiastical court in the house of Caiaphas the high-priest.
The court here was the Jewish Sanhedrim. They were the most honored and respected men of the nation. They were supposed to be a court of seventy honorable, sober, learned, and faithful men (Num. 11:16-17). But it was now reduced to a pack of malicious Scribes and Pharisees. Over this mob of bloodthirsty, self-righteous men, Caiaphas was the head. It was Caiaphas who led the examination. They questioned the Savior about his doctrine and his assertions that he is both the Messiah and God the Son. And they sought false witnesses against him. When he gave answer, they began to mock him, spit on him, and beat him. (Mark 14:61-65).
It was at this point, which they rebelled. These Jews would gladly have received Christ as a savior to deliver them from Roman bondage; but they would not worship him as God and bow to him as Lord. That is still the point of man’s rebellion (Luke 14:25-33).
There are multitudes who pretend to honor our Savior as a good, moral man and a good religious teacher, while denying his eternal deity as God the Son. But, surely, if he were not the Son of God, if the Jews had misunderstood his claims, he would have said so here!
Caiaphas was a self-serving religious leader, the high priest in Israel, who curried favor with the Romans. It was Caiaphas who gave counsel that it was expedient for one man to die for the nation, lest the Romans destroy the whole nation. He considered the sacrifice of a man’s life a matter of insignificance, if by the sacrifice Romans were pacified.
We know, of course, that it was God the Holy Spirit who compelled him to speak prophetically (John 11:47-53). Yet, his words display clearly the character of the man himself. At the same time, they show us that the time had come that was prophesied in Genesis 49:10. The scepter of civil government had now departed from Judah, because Shiloh, the Messiah, had come.
The Sanhedrim was now nothing but an insignificant band of Jewish religious leaders, who had no legitimate authority or power to judge anything. Herod took all authority from them in the beginning of his reign. So they were compelled to seek a death sentence against the Lord Jesus at Pilate’s judgment hall. This fact they stated plainly in John 18:31, saying to Pilate, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
Still, in their pretense of righteousness, the Jews would not enter Pilate’s house, lest they should defile themselves on the passover. So Pilate came out on the pavement to them to examine the Lamb of God (John 18:28-29). The Jews brought three charges against our Redeemer: (1.) They accused him of refusing to pay tribute to Caesar. (2.) They accused him of stirring up sedition. (3.) They accused him of blasphemy. But they could produce no proof of their charges.
Then Pilate personally examined the Savior. He asked him about his claims as King of the Jews. And he asked the Savior, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Perhaps he said this in sarcasm. But the Truth was standing before him; and he knew it. Pilate then sent the Lord Jesus to Herod. There again, our Lord was examined; but nothing was found against him. Herod and his soldiers mocked and beat God’s eternal Son, and sent him back to Pilate.
Matthew here describes the scene of our Savior’s mock trial before Pilate. Pilate had the immaculate Lamb of God severely beaten, humiliated, mocked, and scourged. He hoped by this means to satisfy the anger of the mob; but it would not do. Finally, the verdict was passed. Immanuel was found innocent of all charges. But these men cared nothing for that. Pilate then presented the Lord Jesus to the crowd proclaiming, “Behold Your King” (John 19:14).
Can you get the picture? There is the bleeding Lamb of God. A crown of thorns is upon his head. A reed is in his hand. A mock robe is on his back. And Pilate says, “Behold your King!” He is, indeed, the King. But these wicked men despised God’s anointed King. They clamored for his blood, crying, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And they assumed full responsibility for the shedding of Immanuel’s blood, saying, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
It appears that Pilate’s conscience was alarmed by the things that transpired before him. His wife was alarmed as well. She had a fearful dream concerning the matter. So Pilate tried to reason with the chief priests and elders, hoping to spare himself from murdering the Christ of God. But the Jews could not be pacified. At last, Pilate consented to the will of the Jews. Obviously horrified and unable to conceal the wickedness of ordering the crucifixion of a completely innocent man, he publicly washed his hands, as if to show that he bore no responsibility for what he was about to do. Then, probably as he was drying his hypocritical hands, he pronounced the sentence of death against the Savior and proclaimed his innocence! What a mockery!
Yet, this proof of our Lord’s innocence ought to be a sweet consolation and comfort for our hearts. We should be deeply thankful that our great Substitute was in all respects proved to be perfect and innocent, that our Surety was pronounced faultless by the very man who ordered his crucifixion.
Who among us can number his sins? We leave undone the things we ought to do and do the things we ought not to do every day of our lives. But here is our comfort. “Jesus Christ the righteous” stood in our place to pay the debt we owed and fulfill the law we have broken. He fulfilled the law completely. He satisfied all its demands. He accomplished all its requirements. He was the last Adam, who had “clean hands and a pure heart,” and could therefore enter with boldness into God’s holy hill. He is our Righteousness. In him God’s elect have perfectly fulfilled all the law. The eyes of a holy God beholds us in Christ, clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness, and made the righteousness of God in him. For Christ’s sake, God can now say of the believing sinner, “I find no fault in him at all.”
Truly, the Son of God, our Substitute, “knew no sin.” And God compelled those who crucified him to confess his perfect innocence. The Lamb of God was examined publicly and privately, and he was without blemish and without spot. It must be so, because he who undertakes to be a Substitute for sinners must be sinless.
Mercy and Judgment
I cannot avoid directing your attention to the great mercy of our great God and Savior toward men who shed his blood. When Pilate said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person, see ye to it: Then answered all the people and said: His blood be upon us and on our children.” The Jews defiantly pronounced God’s judgment upon themselves. Yet, our Savior sent great mercy to many of those very men. In Acts 2, when the enthroned Christ poured out his Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Peter declared that the men of Israel had with wicked hands crucified and slain Jesus of Nazareth, whom God had made both Lord and Christ. When they heard Peter’s message, they were pricked in the heart, and cried, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” Upon many of those present, the Lord God performed his great work of grace. And the precious blood of Christ graciously put upon them sprinkled their hearts to the purging of their consciences by the Spirit of God.
The very first word spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ from the cross was for them. He prayed, “Father! forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In Acts 2 the Lord graciously answered his prayer on their behalf. There is always a perfect and gracious correspondence between the intercession of Christ and the gifts of God the Holy Spirit. Robert Hawker wrote, “Even the Jerusalem sinners, who imbrued their hands in the blood of Christ are made partakers in the blessedness of salvation in his blood.” That fact should be a great encouragement to sinners everywhere to come to him who has promised, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37-45)
Yet, upon others the Lord God poured out his furious wrath. The Jewish nation is to this day a nation reeking under the judgment of God. The guilt of Immanuel’s blood is still upon the children of those who crucified him! As it is written, God has “mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Salvation is his sovereign prerogative (Rom. 9:11-24).
The innocence of Christ had no bearing with the angry mob. They wanted his blood. So the death sentence was passed upon him, proclaiming the guilt and depravity of man. “And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.” As Luke tells us, Pilate “delivered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:25). The crowd cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And Pilate, willing to please the crowd, sentenced our Redeemer to die upon the cursed tree.
I am confident that Pilate knew what he was doing. There, standing before him, was the embodiment of meekness, innocence, love, and purity. Pilate tried in vain to wash his hands of the innocent blood. I expect that those bloodstained hands still torment his conscience in hell. But he gave the sentence. Jesus of Nazareth must be nailed to a cross and hung up to die. This was the most unjust and unrighteous sentence ever passed. It was an indescribably cruel sentence. The Lamb of God was sentenced to die a violent, cruel, tormenting death. It was as merciless as it was unjust.
Never was there such a glaring display of the guilt and depravity of the human heart! The Pharisees and the Roman soldiers, Jews and Gentiles, Pilate and Herod were all of one mind in this matter; they hated the Son of God, and determined to murder him. We all had a hand in the crucifixion of Christ. Those men are true representations of humanity. Every rebel sinner continues to cry, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Let his blood be upon me and upon my children,” by his willful unbelief. Unbelief is but man’s continual repetition of this hellish crime! Unbelief declares that Christ our God is a liar (1 John 5:10), the assertion that he deserved to be crucified, trampling under foot the blood of the Son of God! Unbelief is the relentless cry of man’s wicked free-will, “Crucify him! Crucify him! We will not have this man to rule over us!”
Still, we must never forget that, though they knew it not, these men were under the dominion and control of that One whom they sentenced to die. They fulfilled the very words of Holy Scripture, doing no more and no less than was ordained by him whom they executed (Acts 4:26-28; 13:27-29). By their wicked hands, with all the malice of their wicked will, they did exactly what our Lord had declared they would do (Dan. 9:26; Isa. 53:1-12). Our Lord's tormenters used the very words and performed the very deeds he had predicted by his prophets. A casual reading of the 22nd Psalm alone will demonstrate this fact. Those very words used by wicked men in the betrayal, shame, mockery, deceit, and cruelty heaped upon the Lord Jesus were but the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures (See Psalms 22, 40 and 69). The Son of God did not die as a helpless victim of circumstances. He did not die because the Jews would not let him be their king! He died by his own, voluntary will, accomplishing the eternal purpose of the triune God, as the Surety and Substitute for his people.
By the arrangement of divine providence, a substitution was made, portraying the nature of Christ’s atonement. Pilate “released unto them Barabbas.” He condemned the innocent and released the guilty. That is a picture of real Substitution. It wonderfully portrays the nature of our Lord’s sacrifice. The innocent One died in the place of the guilty and the guilty one went free.
Barabbas was a justly condemned man. He was guilty. He was sentenced to die. But the Lord Jesus Christ took his place on the cursed tree. He took Barabbas’ shame and torment. He died in Barabbas place. He died in Barabbas’ stead. And Barabbas went free.
That is exactly what the Son of God did for us. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). We were guilty. Christ took our place. He died in our stead under the furious wrath of God. Now we go free!
Who can imagine the depths of our Savior’s humiliation? What infinite love is the love of Christ for us! O the blessedness of substitutionary redemption! Because the Son of God was arraigned and condemned before Pilate’s bar, and before the bar of divine justice, no believer shall ever be arraigned, or condemned, or even charged with sin before the bar of God! As Augustus Toplady wrote…
“If Thou hast my discharge procured,