PILATE TRIES TO RELEASE JESUS
JESUS IS CONDEMNED AND SENT TO DIE
Despite Jesus’ having been viciously abused and ridiculed, Pilate’s efforts to release him do not move the chief priests and their accomplices. They want nothing to prevent having Jesus put to death. They keep shouting: “To the stake with him! To the stake with him!” Pilate responds: “Take him yourselves and execute him, for I do not find any fault in him.”
The Jews do not convince Pilate that Jesus is worthy of death on a political charge, but what about a religious one? They fall back on the charge of blasphemy that was raised at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. “We have a law,” they say, “and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself God’s son.” (John 19:7) This is a new charge for Pilate.
He goes back into his palace and tries to find a way to release this man who has borne up under severe treatment and about whom Pilate’s own wife had a dream. (Matthew 27:19) What of this new charge that the Jews are making
Pilate had heard directly from Jesus that he is a king but that his Kingdom is no part of this world. Not needing to elaborate on what he earlier said, Jesus remains silent. His refusal to reply stings Pilate’s pride, and he indignantly says to Jesus: “Are you refusing to speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and I have authority to execute you?”
Jesus says simply: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been granted to you from above. This is why the man who handed me over to you has greater sin.” (John 19:11) Jesus likely does not have in mind one specific individual. Rather, he means that Caiaphas, his accomplices, and Judas Iscariot bear a heavier responsibility than Pilate does.
Impressed by Jesus’ comportment and words, and increasingly fearful that Jesus may be of divine origin, Pilate tries again to release him. However, the Jews bring up another fear that Pilate must have. They threaten: “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”
The governor brings Jesus outside once more and, sitting on the judgment seat, tells the people: “See! Your king!” The Jews will not relent, though. “Take him away! Take him away! To the stake with him!” they shout. Pilate pleads: “Shall I execute your king?” The Jews have long chafed under Roman rule; still, the chief priests boldly assert: “We have no king but Caesar.”
Cowardly caving in under the Jews’ relentless demands, Pilate hands Jesus over to be executed. The soldiers strip the scarlet-colored cloak off Jesus and put on his outer garments. As Jesus is led off, he must bear his own torture stake.
It is now well into the morning of Friday, Nisan 14. Jesus has been awake since early Thursday morning and has suffered one agonizing experience after another. As he struggles under the weight of the stake, Jesus’ strength gives out. So the soldiers force a passerby, Simon from Cyrene in Africa, to carry the stake to the place of execution. Many people follow, some beating themselves in grief and bewailing what is happening.
Jesus says to the grieving women: “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me. Weep instead for yourselves and for your children; for look! days are coming when people will say, ‘Happy are the barren women, the wombs that did not give birth and the breasts that did not nurse!’ Then they will start saying to the mountains, ‘Fall over us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us over!’ If they do these things when the tree is moist, what will occur when it is withered?”
Jesus is referring to the Jewish nation. It is like a dying tree that still has some moisture left, for Jesus is present and so are a number of Jews who believe in him. When these are taken out from the nation, only a spiritually withered national organization will remain, being like a dead tree. There will be intense weeping when the Roman armies act as God’s executioners against that nation!