And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him to Pilate.…
We pass now from the ecclesiastical to the secular sphere. The charge brought forward in the Sanhedrin is blasphemy; before Pilate and Herod the charge must be sedition and treason. Yet amid his unscrupulous enemies unimpeachable testimony is forthcoming of his innocence.
I. THE TESTIMONY ELICITED BY PILATE. (Vers. 1-7,) The accusation made against Christ was twofold:
(1) forbidding to pay tribute;
(2) assuming royalty.
Now, the first part of the accusation was totally false. Jesus, when asked about the tribute, had expressly advised the people to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." There could be no conflict of interests between the emperor and Christ so far as tribute was concerned. Doubtless upon this first point Pilate received ample assurance that it was groundless, When, again, he inquired about Christ's royalty, he was told that his kingship was not earthly, but spiritual. Although Pilate could not grasp its exact meaning, he saw sufficient to assure him that it was on a different plane from that of Caesar's. Hence Pilate declared his innocence before his accusers. Upon this the chief priests and scribes were reduced to the complaint that he was stirring up the people from Galilee to Judaea. Strange complaint, that Jesus was rousing up his fellows! He was troubling Israel very much as Elias had done. Men are in desperate need of an accusation when they resort to this one, which merely means that the accused one is in downright earnest! As soon as Pilate hears of Christ's earnestness in Galilee, he inquires if he belongs to Herod's jurisdiction, and is happy to hand him over for trial to the Idumean.
II. THE TESTIMONY BORNE BY HEROD. (Vers. 8-12.) We have next to notice how Herod has unconsciously to testify to Christ's innocence. The murderer of the Baptist thinks, now that Jesus is brought before him, that he has only to express a wish for a miracle, and it will be gratified. To his great surprise and humiliation he receives no answer to his numerous questions; nor do the fierce calumnies of the Jews elicit from the meek Messiah a single word in mitigation or defense. The treatment of Herod was that of silent contempt. The wicked king deserved no other fate. And his only revenge was to mock Christ and set him at naught. So they array him in a robe such as the high priests wore, white and brilliant, indicating at once what he pretended to be and how innocent he really was. Herod, in sending him back in this scornful fashion, conveyed to Pilate's mind clearly that he had no more fault to find with him than the Roman governor had. This was the second testimony to the innocency of Jesus.
III. THE TESTIMONY IMPLIED BY THE DEMAND FOR BARABBAS. (Vers. 13-19.) In no clearer way could the chief priests have shown the utter groundlessness of their first charge than in demanding Barabbas in preference to Jesus. Here was a real rebel, who had committed murder in the insurrection, and he is made the idol of the Jewish populace. They show in this their sympathy with sedition. They show clearly to Pilate that Jesus must be thwarting in some way their seditious designs, else they would not clamor so eagerly for his blood. Instead of substantiating their accusation against Jesus, therefore, they really formulate an accusation of treason against themselves. They were guilty; he was innocent. They were the dangerous class; Jesus occupied a region altogether outside the interests of Caesar.
IV. JESUS SACRIFICED TO POPULAR CLAMOUR. (Vers. 20-25.) There is no show of justice in condemning Christ. All accusation against him fails, and all which can be done is to shout him down. If Jesus be not crucified, Jerusalem will go into revolt. Will not an emeute be worse than the death of an individual? And so the worldly governor, charged by Rome to keep the peace in the province at all hazards, prefers to deliver the innocent to the will of the guilty than to brave their wrath. It is clamor that secures his condemnation. The judge, who should be the protector of the innocent, unites with the populace in doing him to death. Alas! that men should be so bent on peace as to be ready to sacrifice the innocent to secure it! And yet our Lord's character never shone with so bright a lustre as when he submitted to such wrongs as these. He was truly meek and lowly in heart when he bore so quietly the wrath of the Jews and the time-serving policies of Pilate and Herod. This friendship of Herod and of Pilate, resting on a common indifference to Jesus, is the emblem of those worldly truces which men make who wish to enjoy immunity from trouble; but they do not wear well. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.