The Passion Of The Christ: The Remaining Four Trials — A Reprise

Arrest_and_Trial011The more closely I read the details of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, the more convinced I am that they unfolded over a period of days, not hours.

The morning after his arrest, Jesus was hauled in front of the Sanhedrin for a final religious kangaroo court. The decision had been predetermined the night before, but to simulate legality, the elders, chief priests, and scribes gathered together to make it official.

Having declared Jesus a blasphemer, they dragged Him off to Pilate. Not wanting to defile themselves by entering into a Gentile home, which would make them unclean and unable to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they remained outside while Pilate came to them.

I don’t know what they expected. A rubber stamp on their guilty verdict? They didn’t seem prepared. Pilate asked them what Jesus was guilty of and they said, in essence, Trust us, he’s no good. In other words, they made no accusation at first, apart from calling him an evildoer—a fact, they told Pilate, he could believe because they would not have brought him otherwise. A rather circular argument, and one Pilate wasn’t buying.

His first ruling was, You take him and punish him if he’s broken your law.

The Jews cut to the chase, then: “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” But they still had the problem that their accusation of blasphemy was not a crime against Rome.

That’s when they changed tactics and started accusing Jesus of things that would be an affront to the Roman government: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2-3)

The last point got Pilate’s attention. Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, he went into the judgment hall and called Jesus to him. In reality, this interview began the first of the three political trials Jesus faced.

Did all these events happen in less than an hour? I have my doubts. In fact, because it was the day after Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath according to Old Testament law, I would postulate that the Pharisees delivered Jesus over to Pilate’s soldiers and scurried on home without hanging around the Gentile judgment hall.

I could be wrong about this. Pilate might have concluded this first trial some time that day, but I think it’s just as possible he didn’t rush right out when the Jews came calling, that he dealt with this legal matter in order, after he’d tended to the usual matters of the day. At this point he would certainly not have had reason to think the situation was an emergency.

At any rate, at some point, whether that day or whether several days later, after the Special Sabbath and the regular Sabbath, in his interview with Jesus, the governor tried to nail him down regarding this accusation that He claimed to be a king.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate went outside to the waiting Jewish leaders or those he’d called to him and rendered his verdict regarding Jesus—not guilty. The Pharisees, perhaps growing somewhat desperate, tried to strengthen their case against Jesus, telling Pilate He was stirring up the people from as far away as Galilee.

At last Pilate saw a way out of this mess. King Herod, ruler of the Galilean district, was in Jerusalem for Passover. He could deal with Jesus.

And so ended the first trial.

Did the second trial start that same day? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But we are told that up to this point Herod and Pilate didn’t get along. Would Herod have rushed to respond to a message from Pilate that he was sending him a prisoner to examine?

Possibly. Scripture says Herod was eager to talk to Jesus. But did he know at once that Jesus was the prisoner?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know what the protocol was for judicial hearings. I do know that John the Baptist had been kept in prison for days and that Paul, when he was to be tried by Festus, also remained locked up for days. I don’t think there was a Roman policy about a speedy trial.

Scripture does say, Herod “questioned Him at some length” (Luke 23:9a). Was that for hours? All day? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was longer than the hour the traditional view of these events would allow.

The thing was, Jesus wouldn’t placate Herod’s curiosity. He refused to answer his questions. Even when the chief priests and scribes showed up to accuse Jesus of crimes He hadn’t committed, He made no defense.

Herod didn’t render a finding but that didn’t stop his soldiers from making sport of Jesus. After the official part of the trial, they decked Him out in a robe, mocked him, and treated him with contempt.

Back Jesus went to Pilate. The governor, according to Luke, had to call the chief priests and scribes together, again an indication that they weren’t standing in the streets waiting for this decision to be handed down.

I suspect by this time they realized they needed more leverage against Pilate. And if these trials were spread over several days, they would have had a reasonable amount of time to stir up some opposition to Jesus.

I don’t see the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem turning against Him in a matter of an hour or so. But given time, word would get out that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty.

On top of that, there were a number of Messiah claimants who preceded Jesus. Were the people once again disillusioned when the Passover came and went and Jesus didn’t lead them against Roman rule? That’s what most of the Jews expected from the Messiah: He would come as the descendant of David to claim his throne.

At any rate, when Jesus returned to Pilate, the Jewish leaders were prepared. They had the charges they could bring and the people primed to do their part.

Pilate again declared Jesus to be innocent and turned to the people, hoping they would side with him. Instead they clamored for the release of a real insurrectionist named Barabbas, and cried for Jesus to be crucified.

The governor had one ally, though. His wife had had a dream—which fits more perfectly into the timeline of events if she had heard about Jesus appearing before her husband, then had a dream in the night. Whenever this dream occurred, it unsettled her for some time, (“last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” Matt. 27:19b) to the point that she had to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”

Pilate settled on a different punishment from crucifixion—scourging. His soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, feigned obeisance to the “King of the Jews”—the people they hated. None of this satisfied the Jewish leaders.

Again they threw the original charge at Jesus: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate was terrified. But he was more terrified of Rome. When it looked like he’d have a riot on his hands, when the Jewish leaders accused him of being no friend of Caesar’s because he was allowing this rival king to live, he relented.

And so, after all his findings of not guilty, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, literally, and told the Jewish leaders to do what they wanted to do.

Three political trials and one religious trial, all in the space of three hours? It doesn’t seem likely. But if these events were spread out over days, not hours, it’s easy to see them unfold logically—particularly the crowd growing more and more hostile and Pilate’s resistance wearing down.

A non-traditional view of the timeline of the Passion events

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April 2014.

Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: The Remaining Four Trials — A Reprise  
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What Is Truth?

Nearly two thousand years ago, Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea serving under Emperor Tiberius, asked Jesus, What is truth? The problem was, he didn’t stick around for the answer but headed outside to tell the Jews Jesus wasn’t guilty of the crimes of which they were accusing him.

Jesus, you see, had just said that He came into the world to testify to the truth and that everyone “who is of the truth” hears His voice.

In light of the context, Pilate’s question seems disingenuous. It was more dismissive than it was searching, as if truth was an ephemeral will-o’-the-wisp, impossible to grasp.

In that regard, Pilate would have made a good postmodern thinker.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective. (excerpt from “Postmodernism”emphasis mine)

What a contrast to Jesus’s testimony. He not only told Pilate He came to communicate truth, He told His disciples He is truth.

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

Of course, to believe Jesus’s statement, of necessity we must believe that the Bible faithfully recorded it.

Back in the eighteenth century, a scholar named Hermann Samuel Reimarus, using the methodology employed to study Greek and Latin texts, concluded that very little of the New Testament could be considered as indisputably true. That is to say, he had no proof that anything recorded in the Bible was untrue, but it lacked the supporting evidences from extra-Biblical sources.

Of course a good number of extra Biblical sources confirming Biblical truth have since been discovered, but the horse was already out of the barn, and higher criticism or “historical criticism,” the new term now favored, had already begun to sift through the Bible for the “historical Jesus.”

Similar efforts were being made regarding the Old Testament and scholars were concluding that it was nothing more than a human document. Apparently everything came under question, including authorship.

No longer was it sufficient for the book of Isaiah, for example, to state in the first chapter that these were the prophecies of Isaiah the son of Amoz.

The point is, a set of scholars came to believe that, despite internal evidence to the contrary, they could determine, thousands of years after the fact, what was true and what wasn’t.

The internal evidence I’m speaking of includes the clear declaration in various verses that these things are so. It also includes the evidence that the New Testament writers quoted the Old as proof of what they were saying. It also includes writers like Paul referencing Old Testament individuals like Adam in a parallel argument to explain what Christ means to people who believe in Him. (Why would Paul compare Jesus to a myth if he wanted people to believe in Him?)

In addition, there is a collection of methods such as what the leaders of the church wrote in the years following the writing of the last book of the Bible, that scholars use to verify the veracity of Scripture.

Other scholars will rely of methods such as socio-scientific criticism:

A typical study will draw on studies of contemporary nomadism, shamanism, tribalism, spirit-possession, millinarianism, etc. to illuminate similar passages described in biblical texts. (excerpt from “Biblical Criticism“)

With all the voices saying this or that, I can see a Pilate throwing up his hands and saying, What is truth?

As I think about this subject, I come to a central point — does the Bible depict truth as I know it, starting with the existence of God. Does He exist and is He the person the Bible describes?

Oddly enough many people make that determination without having ever read the Bible. I suspect such a decision says more about the person than it does about Truth. I heard, for example, Christopher Hitchens in a debate, and he said, for all practical purposes, that he didn’t believe in God because he couldn’t stand the thought of a “tyrant” telling him what to do.

The bottom line for me is this: if the God of the Bible exists, then He is all powerful. Could an all powerful God communicate through people to reveal Himself? Could He preserve and protect that communication down through the ages? Could He be sure that those writers who contributed to it gave a unified message? Could He verify the truth of that communication to individuals through His own Spirit?

If He could not do those things, then it would seem He is not all powerful, calling into question all the key components of the Christian faith — specifically the Son of God come down in the form of Man, dying for the redemption of sinners, rising on the third day to be seated at God’s right hand until He returns again in glory.

None of those things could be true unless God is all powerful. And an all powerful God can do all those things, He can let people know He did them, and He can let them know why He did them by producing a reliable, authoritative written record.

It seems to me unless a person believes in a “different God,” the Bible is His authoritative word. If Truth exists, if God exists as an all powerful person, what couldn’t He do to make Himself known?

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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