Jesus Christ, 4e2
Continued from JESUS CHRIST, 4E1.
II. From the Last Supper till the Cross.
1. The Chronology:
A question of admitted difficulty arises in the comparison of the Synoptics and John as to the dates of the Last Supper and of the crucifixion. The Synoptics seem clearly to place the Last Supper on the evening of the 14th of Nisan (in Jewish reckoning, the beginning of the 15th), and to identify it with the ordinary paschal meal (Mt 26:17-19). The crucifixion then took place on the 15th. John, on the contrary, seems to place the supper on the day before the Passover (13:1), and the crucifixion on the 14th, when the Passover had not yet been eaten (18:28; 19:14). Many, on this ground, affirm an irreconcilable discrepancy between John and the Synoptics, some (e.g. Meyer, Farrar, less decisively Sanday) preferring Jn; others (Strauss, Baur, Schmiedel, etc.) using the fact to discredit Jn. By those who accept both accounts, various modes of reconciliation are proposed. A favorite opinion (early church writers; many moderns, as Godet, Westcott, Farrar) is that Jesus, in view of His death, anticipated the Passover, and ate His parting meal with His disciples on the evening of the 13th; others (e.g. Tholuck, Luthardt, Edersheim, Andrews, D. Smith), adhering to the Synoptics, take the view, here shared, that the apparent discrepancy is accounted for by a somewhat freer usage of terms in John. Details of the discussion must be sought in the works on the subject. The case for the anticipatory view is well given in Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, 339 ff; and in Farrar, Life of Christ, Excur. X; a good statement of that for the Synoptics may be seen in Andrews, Life of our Lord; compare Tholuck, Commentary on John, on 13:1; Luthardt, Commentary on John, on 13:1; 18:28; D. Smith, Days of His Flesh, App. II. The language of the Synoptists ("the first day of unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the passover," Mr 14:12) leaves no doubt that they intended to identify the Last Supper with the regular Passover, and it is hardly conceivable that they could be mistaken on so vital a point of the apostolic tradition. This also was the view of the churches of Asia Minor, where John himself latterly resided. On the other hand, the phrase to "eat the passover" in Joh 18:28 may very well, in John's usage, refer to participation in the special sacrifices which formed a chief feature of the proceedings on the Joh 15:1-27th. The allusion in Joh 13:1 need mean no more than that, the Passover now impending, Jesus, loving His disciples to the end, gave them a special token of that love during the meal that ensued. The "preparation of the passover" in Joh 19:14,31 most naturally refers to the preparation for the Sabbath of the Passover week, alluded to also by the Synoptics (Mt 27:62; Mr 15:42; Lu 23:54). The objections based on rabbinical regulations about the Sabbath are convincingly met by Tholuck (see also Andrews). We assume, therefore, that our Lord ate the Passover with His disciples at the usual time--the evening of the 14th of Nisan (i.e. the beginning of the 15th).
2. The Last Supper:
(Mt 26:17-35; Mr 14:12-31; Lu 22:7-38; Joh 13:1-38; compare 1Co 11:23-25)
In the scene in the upper chamber, at the observance of the Last Supper, we enter the holy of holies of this part of the Lord's history. It is difficult, in combining the narratives, to be sure of the order of all the particulars, but the main events are clear. They may be exhibited as follows:
a) The Preparation:
On "the first day of unleavened bread"--Thursday, 14th of Nisan--Jesus bade two of His disciples (Luke names Peter and John) make the needful preparations for the observance of the Passover. This included the sacrificing of the lamb at the temple, and the securing of a guest-chamber. Jesus bade the disciples follow a man whom they would meet bearing a pitcher, and at the house where he stopped they would find one willing to receive them. The master of the house, doubtless a disciple, at once gave them "a large upper room furnished and ready" (Mark); there they made ready.
b) Dispute about Precedence--Washing of the Disciples' Feet--Departure of Judas:
Evening being come, Jesus and the Twelve assembled, and took their places for the meal. We gather from Joh 13:23 that John reclined next to Jesus (on the right), and the sequel shows that Judas and Peter were near on the other side. It was probably this arrangement that gave rise to the unseemly strife for precedence among the disciples narratedin Lu 22:24-30. The spirit thus displayed Jesus rebuked, as He had more than once had occasion to do (compare Mr 9:33-37); then (for here may be inserted the beautiful incident in Joh 13:1 ff), rising from the table, He gave them an amazing illustration of His own precept, "He that is chief (let him become) as he that doth serve ..... I am in the midst of you as he that serveth" (Lu 22:26-27), in divesting Himself of His garments, girding Himself with a towel, and performing the act of a servant in washing His disciples' feet. Peter's exclamation must have expressed the feelings of all: "Lord, dost thou wash my feet?" The act of the Divine Master was a wonderful lesson in humility, but Jesus used it also as a parable of something higher. "If I wash thee not (i.e. if thou art not cleansed by the receiving of my word and spirit, which this washing symbolizes), thou hast no part with me"; then on Peter's further impulsive protest, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head," the word: "He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" (i.e. sanctification of the inner man is once for all, but there is need for cleansing from the sins of the daily walk). Resuming His place at the table, He bade them imitate the example He had just given them.
Is it I?
An ominous word had accompanied the reply to Peter, "Ye are not all clean" (Joh 13:10-11). As the supper proceeded, the meaning of this was made plain. Judas, who had already sold his Master, was at the table with the rest. He had permitted Jesus to wash his feet, and remained unmoved by that surpassing act of condescending love. Jesus was "troubled in spirit" and now openly declared, "One of you shall betray me" (the Greek word means literally, "deliver up": compare Lu 22:4,6, and the Revised Version margin throughout). It was an astounding announcement to the disciples, and from one and another came the trembling question, "Lord, is it I?" Jesus answered that it was one of those dipping his hand with Him in the dish (Mark), and spoke of the woe that would overtake the betrayer ("Good were it for that man if he had not been born"). John, at a sign from Peter, asked more definitely, "Who is it?" (John). Jesus said, but to John only, it was he to whom He would give a sop, and the sop was given to Judas. The traitor even yet sought to mask his treachery by the words, "Is it I, Rabbi?" and Jesus replied, though still not aloud, "Thou hast said" (Matthew); then, as Satanic passion stirred the breast of Judas, He added, "What thou doest, do quickly" (John). Judas at once rose and went out--into the night (Joh 13:30). The disciples, not comprehending his abrupt departure, thought some errand had been given him for the feast or for the poor. Jesus was relieved by his departure and spoke of the glory coming to Himself and to His Father, and of love as the mark of true discipleship (Joh 13:31-35).
c) The Lord's Supper:
The forms of the observance of the Passover by the Jews are given elsewhere (see PASSOVER). Luke alone of the New Testament writers speaks of 2 cups (22:17,20); in Jewish practice 4 cups were used. The "Western" text, Codex Bezae (D), omits Luke's 2nd cup, from which some (compare Sanday, Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)) infer duplication, but this is not necessary. Luke's 1st cup (Lu 22:17) may be that with which the paschal supper opened; the 2nd cup--that mentioned by all the writers--was probably the 3rd Jewish cup, known as "the cup
of blessing" (compare 1Co 10:16). Some, however, as Meyer, make it the 4th cup. It is implied in Matthew, Mark, John, that by this time Judas had gone. Left thus with His own, the essentials of the paschal meal being complete, Jesus proceeded, by taking and distributing bread and wine, associating them with His body and blood, soon to be offered in death upon the cross, to institute that sacred rite in which, through all ages since (though its simplicity has often been sadly obscured) His love and sacrifice have been commemorated by His church. There are variations of phrase in the different accounts, but in the essentials of the sacramental institution there is entire agreement. Taking bread, after thanks to God, Jesus broke it, and gave it to the disciples with the words, "This is my body"; the cup, in like manner, after thanksgiving, He gave them with the words, "This is my blood of the covenant (in Luke and Paul, "the new covenant in my blood") which is poured out for many" (Matthew adds, "unto remission of sins"). Luke and Paul add what is implied in the others: "This do in remembrance of me" (Lu 22:19; 1Co 11:24). Nothing could more plainly designate the bread and wine as holy symbols of the Lord's body and blood, offered in death for man's redemption, and sealing in His blood a new covenant with God; nor, so long as the rite is observed in its Divine simplicity, as Jesus instituted it, will it be possible to expunge from His death the character of a redeeming sacrifice. In touching words Jesus intimated that He would no more drink of the fruit of the vine till He drank it new with them in their Father's Kingdom (on the doctrinal aspects, see EUCHARIST; SACRAMENTS; LORD'S SUPPER).
d) The Last Discourses--Intercessory Prayer:
The Supper was over, and parting was imminent, but Jesus did not leave the holy chamber till He had poured out His inmost heart in those tender, consolatory, profoundly spiritual addresses which the beloved disciple has preserved for us in Joh 14:1-31; 15:1-27; and Joh 16:1-33, followed by the wonderful closing intercessory prayer of Joh 17:1-26. He was leaving them, but their hearts were not to be disquieted, for they would see Him again (Joh 14:18; 16:16 ff), and if, ere long, He would part with them again in visible form, it was only outwardly He would be separated from them, for He would send them the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who would take His place, to guide them into all truth, and bring all things to their remembrance that He had said to them (Joh 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7-14). If He went away, it was to prepare a place for them, and He would come again to receive them to Himself in His Father's house (Joh 14:1-3); let them meanwhile show their love to Him by keeping His commandments (Joh 14:15,23,14). In the Spirit He Himself and the Father would dwell in the souls that loved Him (Joh 14:21-23). The intimacy of their union with Him would be like that of branches in the vine; only by abiding in Him could they bring forth fruit (Joh 15:1 ff). They would have tribulations (Joh 15:18 ff; Joh 16:1-2), but as His dying bequest He left them His own peace (Joh 14:27); that would sustain their hearts in all trial (Joh 16:33). With many such promises did He comfort them in view of the terrible ordeal through which they were soon to pass; then, addressing His Father, He prayed for their holy keeping, and their final admission to His glory (Joh 17:9-18,24).
These solemn discourses finished, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn (the "Hallel") and departed to go to the Mount of Olives. Comparing the evangelists, one would infer that the conversation in which Jesus foretold the denial of Peter at least commenced before they left the chamber (Lu 22:31 ff; John connects it, probably through relation of subject, with the exposure of Judas, Lu 13:35); but it seems to have continued on the way (Matthew, Mark).
e) The Departure and Warning:
Jesus had spoken of their being "offended" in Him that night. In his exaltation of spirit, Peter declared that though all should be offended in Him, he would never be offended. Jesus, who had already warned Peter that Satan sought to have him, that he might sift him as wheat (Lu 22:31; but "I made supplication for thee," etc.), now told him that before the cock should crow, he would thrice deny Him. Peter stoutly maintained that he would die rather than be guilty of so base an act--so little did he or the others (Mt 26:35; Mr 14:31) know themselves! The enigmatic words in Lu 22:36 about taking scrip and sword point metaphorically to the need, in the times that were coming upon them, of every lawful means of provision and self-defence; the succeeding words show that "sword" is not intended to be taken literally (Lu 22:38).
3. Gethsemane--the Betrayal and Arrest:
(Mt 26:36-56; Mr 14:32-53; Lu 22:39-53; Joh 18:1-12)
Descending to the valley, Jesus and His disciples, crossing the brook Kidron ("of the cedars"), entered the "garden" (John) known as Gethsemane ("oil-press"), at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Here took place the agony, which is the proper commencement of the Passion, the betrayal by Judas and the arrest of Jesus.
During the evening the thoughts of Jesus had been occupied mainly with His disciples; now that the hour had come when the things predicted concerning Him should have fulfillment (Lu 22:37: "your hour, and the power of darkness," Lu 22:53), it was inevitable that mind and spirit should concentrate on the awful bodily and mental sufferings that lay before Him.
a) Agony in the Garden:
It was not the thought of physical suffering alone--from that also the pure and sensitive humanity of Jesus shrank with natural horror--but death to Him, the Holy One and Prince of Life, had an indescribably hateful character as a hostile power in humanity, due to the judgment of God on sin, and now descending upon Him through the workings of the vilest of human passions in the religious heads of His nation. What anguish to such an One, filled with love and the desire to save, to feel Himself rejected, betrayed, deserted, doomed to a malefactor's cross--alone, yet not alone, for the Father was with Him! (Joh 16:32). The burden on His spirit when He reached Gethsemane was already, as the language used shows, all but unendurable--"amazed," "sore troubled," "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death" (Mark). There, bidding the other disciples wait, He took with Him Peter, and James, and John, and withdrew into the recesses of the garden. Leaving these also a little behind, He sank on the ground in solitary "agony" (Luke), and "with strong crying and tears" (Heb 5:7), poured out His soul in earnest supplication to His Father. "Let this cup pass away from me"--it could not be, but thus the revulsion of His nature was expressed--"howbeit not what I will, but what thou wilt." The passage in Lk (22:44), "His sweat became as it were great drops of blood," etc., though omitted in certain manuscripts, doubtless preserves a genuine trait. Returning to the three, He found them overpowered with sleep: even the support of their wakeful sympathy was denied Him! "Watch and pray," He gently admonished them, "that ye enter not into temptation." A second and third time the same thing happened--wrestling with God on His part, sleep on theirs, till, with Divine strengthening (Lu 22:41), victory was attained, and calm restored. "Sleep on now," He said to His disciples (the crisis is past; your help can avail no more): "Arise, let us be going" (the future has to be faced; the betrayer is at hand. See the remarkable sermon of F.W. Robertson, II, sermon 22).
b) Betrayal by Judas--Jesus Arrested:
The crisis had indeed arrived. Through the darkness, even as Jesus spoke, was seen flashing the light of torches and lanterns, revealing a mingled company of armed men--Roman soldiers, temple officers (John), others--sent by the chief priests, scribes and elders, to apprehend Jesus. Their guide was Judas. It had been found impracticable to lay hands on Jesus in public, but Judas knew this retreat (Joh 18:2), and had arranged, by an act of dastardly treachery, to enable them to effect the capture in privacy. The sign was to be a kiss. With an affectation of friendship, only possible to one into whose heart the devil had truly entered (Lu 22:3; Joh 13:27), Judas advanced, and hailing Jesus as "'Master," effusively kissed Him (Mt 26:49; Mr 14:45 margin). Jesus had asked, "Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke); now He said, "Friend, do that for which thou art come" (Matthew). The soldiers essayed to take Jesus, but on their first approach, driven back as by a supernatural power, they fell to the ground (Jn). A proof thus given of the voluntariness of His surrender (compare Mt 26:53: "Thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father," etc.), Jesus, remarking only on the iniquity of secret violence when every day they had opportunity to take Him in the temple, submitted to be seized and bound. At this point Peter, with characteristic impetuosity, remembering, perhaps, his pledge to die, if need be, with Jesus, drew a sword, and cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant, Malchus (Jn gives the names). If he thought his deed justified by what Jesus had earlier said about "swords" (Lu 22:36,38), he was speedily undeceived by Jesus' rebuke (Mt 116:52; Joh 18:11), and by His healing of the ear (Luke; the last miracle of Jesus before His death). How little this flicker of impulsive boldness meant is shown by the general panic that immediately followed. "All the disciples," it is related, "left him, and fled" (Matthew, Mark). Mk tells of a young man who had come upon the scene with only a linen cloth cast about his naked body, and who fled, leaving the cloth behind (Joh 14:31,31). Not improbably the young man was Mark himself.
4. Trial before the Sanhedrin:
(Mt 26:57-75; 27:1-10; Mr 14:53-72; 15:1; Lu 22:54-71; Joh 18:12-27; compare Ac 1:18-19):
It would be about midnight when Jesus was arrested, and He was at once hurried to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where in expectation of the capture, a company of chief priests, scribes and elders--members of the Sanhedrin--were already assembled. Here the first stage in the trial of Jesus took place.
The legal and constitutional questions connected with the trial of Jesus are considered in the article on JESUS CHRIST, THE ARREST AND TRIAL OF; see also Dr. Taylor Innes, The Trial of Jesus Christ; on the powers of the Sanhedrin, see SANHEDRIN, and compare Schurer, Jewish People, etc., II, 1, pp. 163 ff. There seems little doubt that, while certain judicial forms were observed, the trial was illegal in nearly every particular. The arrest itself was arbitrary, as not rounded on any formal accusation (the Sanhedrin, however, seems to have arrogated to itself powers of this kind; compare Ac 4:1 ff); but the night session, lack of definite charge, search for testimony, interrogation of accused, haste in condemnation, were unquestionably in flagrant violation of the established rules of Jewish judicial procedure in such cases. It is to be remembered that the death of Jesus had already been decided on by the heads of the Sanhedrin, so that the trial was wholly a means to a foregone conclusion. On the historical side, certain difficulties arise. Jn seems to make the first interrogation of Jesus take place before Annas, father-in-law to Caiaphas (on Annas, see below; though deposed 15 years before, he retained, in reality, all the dignity and influence of the high-priesthood; compare Lu 3:2; Ac 4:6); after which He is sent to Caiaphas (Joh 18:13-14,19-24). The narrative is simplified if either (1) Joh 18:19-23 are regarded as a preliminary interrogatory by Annas till matters were prepared for the arraignment before Caiaphas; or (2) 18:24 is taken as retrospective (in the sense of "had sent," as in the King James Version), and the interrogation is included in the trial by Caiaphas (compare 18:19: "the high priest"). Annas and Caiaphas may be presumed from the account of Peter's denials to have occupied the same official residence; else Annas was present on this night to be in readiness for the trial. The frequently occurring term "chief priests" denotes the high priests, with those who had formerly held this rank, and members of their families (compare Schurer, op. cit., 203 ff). They formed, with the scribes, the most important element in the Sanhedrin.
a) Before Annas and Caiaphas--the Unjust Judgment:
First Jesus was led before Annas, then by him, after a brief interview, was transferred, still bound, to Caiaphas. Annas had been deposed, as above noticed, much earlier (15 AD), but still retained the name and through his sons and relations, as long as he lived, exercised much of the authority of high priest. Like all those holding this high office, he and Caiaphas were Sadducees. Annas--if he is the questioner in Joh 18:19-23--asked Jesus concerning His disciples and His teaching. Such interrogation was unlawful, the duty of the accuser, in Jewish law, being to produce witnesses; properly, therefore, Jesus referred him to His public teaching in the temple, and bade him ask those who heard Him there. An officer standing by struck Jesus with his hand for so speaking: an indignity which Jesus endured with meek remonstrance (Joh 18:22-23).
(1) An Illegal Session.
Meanwhile a company of the Sanhedrin had assembled (23 sufficed for a quorum), and Jesus was brought before this tribunal, which was presided over by Caiaphas. A hurried search had been made for witnesses (this, like the night session, was illegal), but even the suborned testimony thus obtained ("false witnesses") was found useless for the purpose of establishing, constructively or directly, a charge of blasphemy against Jesus. At length two witnesses were produced who gave a garbled version of the early saying of Jesus (Joh 2:19) about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days. To speak against the temple might be construed as speaking against God (compare Mt 23:16,21; Ac 6:13-14), but here too the witnesses broke down through lack of agreement. At all costs, however, must Jesus be condemned: the unprecedented course therefore was taken of seeking a conviction from the mouth of the accused Himself. Rising from his seat, the high priest adjured Jesus by the living God to tell them whether He was the Christ, the Son of God (in Mark, "Son of the Blessed"). In using this title, Caiaphas had evidently in view, as in Joh 5:18; 10:33, a claim to equality with God. The supreme moment had come, and Jesus did not falter in His reply: "Thou hast said." Then, identifying Himself with the Son of Man in Daniel's vision (Da 7:13-14), He solemnly added, "Henceforth (from His resurrection on) ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." It was enough. Without even the pretense of inquiry into the truth or falsehood of the claim, the high priest rent his garments, exclaiming, "He hath spoken blasphemy," and by assent of all Jesus was adjudged worthy of death. Abuse and insult followed. The minions of the Sanhedrin were permitted to spit on the condemned One, smite Him, blindfold and mock Him, saying, "Prophesy unto us, thou Christ: who is he that struck thee?" Then, with further blows, He was led away (Mt 26:68).
(2) A Morning Confirmation.
To give color of judicial sanction to these tumultuous and wholly irregular night proceedings, a more formal meeting of the Sanhedrin was convened as soon as day had dawned (Mt 27:1; Mr 15:1; Lu 22:66-71). Probably the irregularities were held to be excused by the urgency of the occasion and the solemnities of the feast. Jesus was again brought forward; new questions were put which He declined to answer. Possibly a new avowal of His Messiahship was made (more probably Luke includes in this scene, the only one he records, some of the particulars of the earlier proceedings). The judgment of the past night was confirmed.
b) The Threefold Denial:
While this greatest moral tragedy of the trial and condemnation of Jesus was in process, a lesser, but still awful, tragedy in the history of a soul was being enacted in the court of the same building (from this the chamber in which the Sanhedrin sat was visible), in the threefold denial of his Master by the apostle Peter. Peter, who had followed "afar off" (Luke), had gained access to the court through an unnamed disciple, whom it is easy to identify with John (Joh 18:15). As he stood warming himself at a fire which had been kindled, the maid who had admitted them (John), gazing attentively at Peter, said boldly, "Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean" (Mt 26:69). Unnerved, and affrighted by his surroundings, Peter took the readiest mode of escape in denial. "I know him not." His heart must have sunk within him as he framed the words, and the crowing of a cock at the moment (Mark--perhaps an hour after midnight), reminding him of his Master's warning, completed his discomfiture. Guiltily he withdrew to the porch, only a little after to be accosted by another (the maid had spoken to her neighbors, Mark), with the same charge. More afraid than ever, he declared again, "I know not this man," and, seeing he was not believed, strengthened the denial with an oath. Yet a third time, an hour later, a bystander (or several, Mark), this time founding on his Galilean speech, pronounced, "Of a truth thou art one of them." Peter, to clear himself, cursed and swore, anew disclaiming knowledge of his Lord. To this depth had the boastful apostle fallen--as low, it might seem, as Judas! But there was a difference. As Peter spoke the cock again crew--the cockcrow which gives its form to three of the narratives (Mark alone mentions the double cockcrowing). At the same instant, either from within, or as He was being led forth, Jesus turned and looked on His erring disciple. That look--so full of pity, sorrow, reproach--could never be forgotten! Its effect was instantaneous: "Peter went out, and wept bitterly."
c) Remorse and Suicide of Judas:
Peter's heartfelt repentance has its counterfoil in the remorse of Judas, which, bitter as it also was, cannot receive the nobler name. First, Judas sought to return the 30 shekels paid him as the price of blood ("I betrayed innocent blood"); then, when callously rebuffed by the priests and elders, he flung down the accursed money in the sanctuary, and went and hanged himself. Matthew and Acts seem to follow slightly divergent traditions as to his end and the purchase of the potter's field. The underlying facts probably are that the priests applied the money, which they could not put into the treasury (Matthew), to the purchase of the field, where, either before or after the purchase, Judas destroyed himself (Acts: falling and bursting asunder), assigning it as a place to bury strangers in. Its connection with Judas is attested by its name, "Akeldama," "the field of blood."
The Jews might condemn, but they had no power to execute sentence of death (Joh 18:31). This power had been taken from them by the Romans, and was now vested in the Roman governor. The procurator of Judea was Pontius Pilate, a man hated by the Jews for his ruthless tyranny (see PILATE), yet, as the Gospels show him, not without a sense of right, but vacillating and weak-willed in face of mob clamor, and risk to his own interests.
5. Trial before Pilate:
(Mt 27:2,11-31; Mr 15:1-20; Lu 23:1-25; Joh 18:28-40; 19:1-16)
His residence in Jerusalem ("Praetorium," the English Revised Version "palace") was probably Herod's former palace (thus Schurer, G.A. Smith, etc.), on the tesselated pavement (Joh 19:13) in the semicircular front of which was placed the tribunal (bema) from which judgments were delivered. It was to this place Jesus was now brought. The events took place when it was "early" (Joh 18:28), probably between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. (compare Joh 19:14, Roman camputation).
a) The Attitude of the Accusers:
Jesus was taken within the Pretorium, but His accusers were too scrupulous about defilement at the Passover festival (Joh 18:28) to enter the building. Pilate therefore came out to hear their accusation. They would fain have had him endorse their condemnation without further inquiry, but this he would not do. They would not have it that it was a simple question of their law, yet had to justify their demand for a death sentence (Joh 18:31). They based, therefore, on the alleged revolutionary character of Christ's teaching, His forbidding to pay tribute to Caesar (a false charge), His claim to be a king (Lu 23:2,5), to all which charges Jesus answered not a word (Mr 15:3,5). At a later stage, after Pilate, who knew very well that no mere sedition against the Roman power had called forth all this passion (witness the choice of Barabbas), had repeatedly declared that he found no crime in Jesus (Mr 15:14; Lu 23:4,14,22; Joh 18:38; 19:4,6), the real spring of their action was laid bare: "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" (Joh 19:7). When it was seen how this declaration made Pilate only the more unwilling to yield to their rage, return was made to the political motive, now in the form of personal threat: "If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend" (Joh 19:12). This was Pilate's weak point, and the Jews knew it. The clamor grew ever louder, "Crucify him, crucify him." Hate of Jesus and national degradation could go no farther than in the cry, "We have no king but Caesar" (Joh 19:15).
b) The Attitude of Pilate:
Pilate was from the first impressed with the innocence of Jesus, and was sincerely anxious, as his actions showed, to save Him from the terrible and ignominious death His implacable enemies were bent on inflicting upon Him. His crime was that, as Roman judge, he finally, against his own convictions, through fear of a charge of disloyalty to Caesar, yielded up to torture and death One whom he had pronounced guiltless, to gratify the brutal passions of a mob. By Pilate's own admissions, Christ's death was, not a punishment for any crime, but a judicial murder. First, through private examination, Pilate satisfied himself that the kingship Jesus claimed ("Thou sayest") carried with it no danger to the throne of Caesar. Jesus was a king indeed, but His kingdom was not of this world; was not, like earthly kingdoms, supported by violence; was founded on the truth, and gathered its subjects from those that received the truth (Joh 18:36-37). The indifference to the name of truth which the jaded mind of Pilate confessed ("What is truth?") could not hide from him the nobility of soul of the Holy One who stood before him. He declared publicly, "I find no fault in this man," and thereafter sought means of saving Him, at least of shifting the responsibility of His condemnation from himself to others.
(1) Jesus Sent to Herod.
Hearing in the clamor round the judgment seat that Jesus was a Galilean, and remembering that Herod Antipas, who had jurisdiction in that region, was in the city, Pilate's first expedient was to send Jesus to Herod, to be examined by him (Lu 23:6-11). This act of courtesy had the effect of making Herod and Pilate, who had been at enmity, again friends (Lu 23:12); otherwise it failed of its object. Herod was pleased enough to see One he had so often heard about--even thought in his flippancy that a miracle might be done by Him--but when Jesus, in presence of "that fox" (Lu 13:32), refused to open His mouth in answer to the accusations heaped upon Him, Herod, with his soldiers, turned the matter into jest, by clothing Jesus in gorgeous apparel, and sending Him back as a mock-king to Pilate.
(2) "Not This Man, but Barabbas."
Pilate's next thought was to release Jesus in pursuance of a Jewish custom of setting free a prisoner at the feast, and to this end, having again protested that no fault had been found in Him, offered the people the choice between Jesus and a notorious robber and murderer called Barabbas, then in prison. Just then, as he sat on the judgment seat, a message from his wife regarding a dream she had ("Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man," Mt 27:19) must strongly have influenced his superstitious mind. Pilate could hardly have conceived that the multitude would prefer a murderer to One so good and pure; but, instigated by the priests, they perpetrated even this infamy, shouting for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus.
(3) "Ecce Homo."
Pilate's weakness now began to reveal itself. He proposed to "chastise" (scourge) Jesus--why "chastise," if He was innocent?--then release Him. But this compromise, as was to be anticipated, only whetted the eagerness for blood, and the cries grew ever louder, "Crucify him." Pilate, however, as if yielding to the storm, did deliver Jesus to be scourged (scourging--a fearful infliction--preceded crucifixion), the cruelty being aggravated by the maltreatment of the soldiers, who, outstripping former mockeries, put on His head a crown of thorns, arrayed Him in a purple robe, and rained blows upon His bleeding face and form. It seems to have been a design of Pilate to awake pity, for once again he brought Jesus forth, and in this affecting guise, with new attestation of His innocence, presented Him to the people in the words, "Behold, the man!" (Joh 19:5). How hideous the mockery, at once to declare of such an one, "I find no crime in him," and to exhibit Him to the crowd thus shamefully abused! No pity dwelt in these hearts, however, and the shouts became still angrier, "Crucify him."
(4) A Last Appeal--Pilate Yields.
The words of the leaders, "He made himself the Son of God," spoken as a reason for putting Jesus to death (Joh 19:7), struck a new fear into the heart of Pilate. It led him again to enter the Pretorium, and inquire of this strange prisoner, unlike any he had ever seen, "Whence art thou?" Jesus was silent. "Knowest thou not," asked Pilate, "that I have power to release thee, and have power to crucify thee?" Jesus answered only that he, Pilate, had no power over Him at all save what was given him of God; the greater therefore was the crime of those who had subjected Him to this abuse of Divinely given power. Again Pilate went out and sought to release Him, but was met by the fierce cries that foreboded complaint to Caesar (Joh 19:12). A tumult seemed imminent, and Pilate succumbed. Here probably (though possibly after the choice of Barabbas) is to be placed the washing of his hands by Pilate--a vain disclaiming of his responsibility--recorded in Mt 27:24, and the awful answer of the people, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Mt 27:25). Pilate now ascends the judgment seat, and, fully conscious of the iniquity of his procedure, pronounces the formal sentence which dooms Jesus to the cross. The trial over, Jesus is led again into the Pretorium, where the cruel mockery of the soldiers is resumed in intensified form. The Holy One, thorn-crowned, clad in purple, a reed thrust into His hand, is placed at the mercy of the whole band, who bow the knee in ridicule before Him ("Hail, King of the Jews"), spit upon Him in contempt, smite Him on the head with the reed (Matthew, Mark). Then, stripped of the robe, His own garments are put on Him, in preparation for the end.
c) The Attitude of Jesus:
In all this hideous scene of cruelty, injustice, and undeserved suffering, the conspicuous feature in the bearing of Jesus is the absolute calmness, dignity and meekness with which He endures the heaviest wrongs and insults put upon Him. The picture in Isa 53:7-8 is startling in its fidelity: "When he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away," etc. There is no return of the perturbation of Gethsemane. As if the strength won there had raised Him into a peace that nothing could shake, He passed through the frightful physical exhaustion, mental strain, agony of scourging, suffering from wounds and blows, of that terrible night and morning, with unbroken fortitude and unembittered spirit. Not a word of complaint passes His lips; He makes no reply to accusations; when reviled, He reviles not again; He takes all with submission, as part of the cup the Father has given Him to drink. It is a spectacle to move the stoniest heart. Well to remember that it is the world's sin, in which all share, that mingled the bitter draught!
III. The Crucifixion and Burial.
1. The Crucifixion:
(Mt 27:31-56; Mr 15:20-41; Lu 23:26-49; Joh 19:16-37)
Crucifixion was the form of punishment reserved by the Romans for slaves, foreigners and the vilest criminals, and could not be inflicted on a Roman citizen. With its prolonged and excruciating torture, it was the most agonizing and ignominious death which the cruelty of a cruel age could devise. Jewish law knew nothing of it (the `hanging on a tree' of De 21:22-23, was after death; compare Ga 3:13), yet to it the Jewish leaders hounded Pilate on to doom their Messiah. The cross was no doubt of the usual Roman shape (see CROSS). The site of Golgotha, "the place of a skull" (in Luke "Calvary," the Latinized form), is quite uncertain. It may have been a slight mound resembling a skull (thus Meyer, Luthardt, Godet, etc.), but this is not known. It is only plain that it was outside the wall, in the immediate vicinity of the city (see note below on sepulcher). The time of the crucifixion was about 9 a.m. (Mr 15:25). The day (Friday) was the "preparation" for the Sabbath of the Passover week (Matthew, Mark, Luke; compare Joh 19:14,31).
a) On the Way:
It was part of the torment of the victim of this horrible sentence that he had to bear his own cross (according to some only the patibulum, or transverse beam) to the place of execution. As Jesus, staggering, possibly fainting, under this burden, passed out of the gate, a stranger coming from the country, Simon, a man of Cyrene, was laid hold of, and compelled to carry the cross (such an one would not be punctilious about rabbinical rules of travel, especially as it was not the regular Sabbath). Jesus, however, was not wholly unpitied. In the crowd following Him were some women of Jerusalem, who bewailed and lamented Him. The Lord, turning, bade these weep, not for Him, but for themselves and for their children. "If they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" (Lu 23:27-31).
b) Between the Thieves--the Superscription--the Seamless Robe:
Golgotha being reached, the crucifixion at once took place under the care of a centurion and a quaternion of soldiers. With ruthless blows, hands and feet were nailed to the wood, then the cross was reared (the perpendicular part may, as some think, have first been placed in position). As if to emphasize, from Pilate's point of view, the irony of the proceedings, two robbers were crucified with Jesus, on right and left, an undesigned fulfillment of prophecy (Isa 53:12). It was doubtless when being raised upon the cross that Jesus uttered the touching prayer--His 1st word on the cross (its genuineness need not be questioned, though some ancient manuscripts omit)--"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke). Above His head, according to custom, was placed a tablet with His accusation, written in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The chief priests took offense at the form, "This is the King of the Jews," and wished the words changed to, "He said, I am King," etc., but Pilate curtly dismissed their complaint: "What I have written I have written" (John). Whether Jesus still wore the crown of thorns is doubtful. The garments of the Crucified were divided among the soldiers, but for His inner garment, woven without seam, they cast lots (compare Ps 22:18). A draught of wine mingled with an opiate (gall or myrrh), intended to dull the senses, was offered, but refused.
c) The Mocking--the Penitent Thief--Jesus and His Mother:
The triumph of Christ's enemies now seemed complete, and their glee was correspondingly unrestrained. Their victim's helplessness was to them a disproof of His claims. Railing, and wagging their heads, they taunted Him, "If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross"; "He saved others; himself he cannot save." At first the robbers who were crucified with Him (possibly only one) joined in this reproach, but ere long there was a change. The breast of one of the malefactors opened to the impression of the holiness and meekness of Jesus, and faith took the place of scorn. He rebuked his neighbor for reviling One who had "done nothing amiss"; then, addressing Jesus, he prayed: "Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." The reply of Jesus--His 2nd word on the cross--surpassed what even the penitent in these strange circumstances could have anticipated "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke). A not less touching incident followed--perhaps preceded--this rescue of a soul in its last extremity. Standing near the cross was a group of holy women, one of them the mother of Jesus Himself (Joh 19:25: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas--some identify the two latter--Mary Magdalene). Mary, whose anguish of spirit may be imagined, was supported by the disciple John. Beholding them--His 3rd word from the cross--Jesus tenderly commended His mother to the care of John; to Mary, "Woman, behold, thy son"; to John, "Beho1d, thy mother." From that time Mary dwelt with John.
Three hours passed, and at noon mocking was hushed in presence of a startling natural change. The sun's light failed (Luke), and a deep darkness, lasting for 3 hours, settled over the land. The darkness was preternatural in its time and occasion, whatever natural agencies may have been concerned in it. The earthquake a little later (Matthew) would be due to the same causes. It was as if Nature veiled itself, and shuddered at the enormity of the crime which was being perpetrated.
d) The Great Darkness--the Cry of Desertion:
But the outer gloom was only the symbol of a yet more awful darkness that, toward the close of this period, overspread the soul of Jesus Himself. Who shall fathom the depths of agony that lay in that awful cry--the 4th from the cross--that burst loudly from the lips of Jesus, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani"--"My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me" (or, "Why didst thou forsake me?")--words borrowed from Ps 22:1! It was before remarked that death was not a natural event to Jesus, but ever had in it to His mind its significance as a judgment of God on sin. Here it was not simply death that He experienced in its most cruel form, but death bereft of the sensible comforts of the Father's presence. What explanation of that mystery can be found which does not take into account with Isa 53:1-12 (compare Joh 1:29) His character as Sin-Bearer, even as the unbroken trust with which in His loneliness He clings to God ("My God") may be felt to have in it the element of atonement? On this, however, the present is not the place to dwell.
e) Last Words and Death of Jesus:
The end was now very near. The victim of crucifixion sometimes lingered on in his agony for days; but the unexampled strain of body and mind which Jesus had undergone since the preceding day brought an earlier termination to His sufferings. Light was returning, and with it peace; and in the consciousness that all things were now finished (Joh 19:28), Jesus spoke again--the 5th word--"I thirst" (John). A sponge filled with vinegar was raised on a reed to His lips, while some who had heard His earlier words ("Eli, Eli," etc.), and thought He called for Elijah, said, "Let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him" (Matthew). With a last effort, Jesus cried aloud--6th and memorable word--"It is finished," then, in a final utterance--the 7th--commended His spirit to God: "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke). Following on this word, bowing His head, He surrendered Himself to death. It will be seen that of the 7 words spoken from the cross, 3 are preserved by Luke alone (1st, 2nd, 7th), 3 by John alone (3rd, 5th, 6th), while the 4th cry ("Eli, Eli," etc.) occurs only in the first 2 evangelists (Matthew and Mark, however, speak of Jesus "crying with a loud voice" at the close).
f) The Spear Thrust--Earthquake and Rending of the Veil:
Jesus had died; the malefactors still lived. It was now 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and it was desired that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the approaching Sabbath. Permission was therefore obtained from Pilate for the soldiers to break the legs of the crucified (crurifragium), and so hasten death. When it was discovered that Jesus was already dead, a soldier, possibly to make sure, pierced His side with a spear, and John, who was present, notices as a special fact that "there came out blood and water" (19:34). Whether this means, as Stroud and others have contended, that Jesus literally died of rupture of the heart, or what other physiological explanation may be given of the phenomenon, to which the apostle elsewhere attaches a symbolical significance (1Jo 5:6), need not be here discussed (see BLOOD AND WATER). This, however, was not the only startling and symbolically significant fact attending the death of Jesus. A great darkness had preluded the death; now, at the hour of His termination, the veil of the temple (i.e. of the inner shrine) was rent from top to bottom--surely a sign that the way into the holiest of all was now opened for mankind (Heb 9:8,12)--and a great earthquake shook the city and rent the rocks. Mt connects with this the statement that from the tombs thus opened "many bodies of the saints .... were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many" (27:52,53). There is nothing in itself improbable, though none of the other evangelists mention it, in such an early demonstration being given of what the Lord's death and resurrection meant for believers. In other ways the power of the cross was revealed. A dying robber had been won to penitence; now the centurion who commanded the soldiers was brought to the avowal, "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew, Mark; in Luke, "a righteous man"). The mood of the crowd, too, was changed since the morning; they "returned, smiting their breasts" (Lu 23:48). "Afar off," speechless with sorrow, stood the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, with other friends and disciples. The evangelists name Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Salome (Mark), and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward (Luke).
2. The Burial:
(Mt 27:57-66; compare Mt 28:11-15; Mr 15:42-47; Lu 23:50-56; Joh 19:38-42)
Jesus had conquered hearts on His cross; now His death reveals friends from the wealthier classes, hitherto kept back by fear (Joh 19:38-39), who charge themselves with His honorable burial. One was Joseph of Arimathea, a just man, "looking for the kingdom of God," of whom the interesting fact is recorded that, though a member of the Sanhedrin, "he had not consented to their counsel and deed" (Luke); the other was Nicodemus, he who came to Jesus by night (Joh 3:1-2; 19:39), mentioned again only in Joh 7:50-52, where, also as a member of the Sanhedrin, he puts in a word for Jesus.
a) The New Tomb:
Joseph of Arimathea takes the lead. "Having dared," as Mk says (15:43, Gr), he begged the body of Jesus from Pilate, and having obtained it, bought linen cloth wherein to wrap it, and reverently buried it in a new rock-tomb of his own (Matthew, Mark), "where never man had yet lain" (Luke). John furnishes the further particulars that the tomb was in a "garden," near where Jesus was crucified (19:41,42). He tells also of the munificence of Nicodemus, who brought as much as 100 pounds (about 75 lbs. avoir.) of spices--"a mixture of myrrh and aloes" (19:39), with which to enwrap the body of Jesus. This is not to be thought of as an "anointing": rather, the spices formed a powder strewn between the folds of the linen bandages (compare Luthardt, Commentary on Joh 19:40). The body, thus prepared, was then placed in the tomb, and a great stone rolled to tile entrance. The burial was of necessity a very hurried one, which the holy women who witnessed it--Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses are specially mentioned (Matthew, Mark)--purposed to supplement by an anointing when the Sabbath was past (compare Lu 23:56).
b) The Guard of Soldiers:
Though Jesus was dead, the chief priests and Pharisees were far from easy in their minds about Him. Mysterious words of His had been quoted about His building of the temple in three days; possibly Judas had told something. about His sayings regarding His death and rising again on the 3rd day; in any case, His body was in the hands of His disciples, and they might remove it, and create the persuasion that He had risen. With this plea they went to Pilate, and asked from him a watch of soldiers to guard the tomb. To make assurance doubly sure, they sealed the tomb with the official seal. The result of their efforts was only, under Providence, to provide new evidence of the reality of the resurrection!
The uncertainty attaching to the site of Golgotha attaches also to the site of Joseph's rock-tomb. Opinion is about equally divided in favor of, and against, the traditional site, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands. A principal ground of uncertainty is whether that site originally lay within or without the second wall of the city (compare Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, 457 ff; G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 576; a good conspectus of the different opinions, with the authorities, is given in Andrews, Part VII).