Jesus before Pilate
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
On the hill in Jerusalem where the more luxurious homes had been, there was found the remains of a great palace, believed to be the home of Caiaphas, the chief priest from 18 CE until a few years after Jesus’ death. His father-in-law, Annas, and brother-in-law had also been high priests; this was a prominent and wealthy family! Beside these ruins is the church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (rooster). This church was first built in 457, destroyed by the caliph in the 11th century, rebuilt by the crusaders in the 12th century, allowed to fall into ruin over the intervening centuries, and finally rebuilt in 1931.
Mark says the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, at Caiaphas house, during the night (Holy Week, Thursday night), and then the Sanhedrin deliberated and decided that Jesus should be put to death. “As soon as it was morning” he was taken to Pilate for judgement. One really could not awaken the Roman governor in the middle of the night! But where was Jesus during that long night, while the Sanhedrin deliberated and waited for morning? Tradition says that he was held in a dungeon in Caiaphas’ house, and there is such a place – a cave hollowed out beneath the ruins of the house; it has a round opening in the top, and a place where a barred window from a higher level of the cellar might have provided a watching place for guards. It is a place that gives you chills – we gathered there and sang a hymn, and felt that incredible closeness to Jesus.
In the morning, Mark says, they took him to Pilate. Some say they did not have the power to put a man to death – but they did, they could stone a person, as they did Stephen later; what they did not have was the power to crucify, that was strictly a Roman prerogative. They wanted Jesus crucified, killed by the most painful, ignoble, cursed death, which would surely discourage his followers – or so they thought! They needed Pilate to condemn him. In the gospels Pilate is pictured as a fair ruler, seeking justice, but finally giving in to the crowd’s demands. History tells us that Pilate was a cruel man, concerned only for his own power and prestige, that he was so cruel in fact that he was removed from office by Rome for excessive cruelty! So why do the gospels give us a flattering picture of him, as one who is somewhat wishy-washy, but tries to be fair? Perhaps Pilate, amused by the machinations of the chief priests, was aiming for an appearance of fairness, toying with them to show his power? Perhaps the writers of the gospels, writing at a time when rebellion was stirring in Israel, were seeking to appease the Romans; or, at a time when Christians were being thrown out of the synagogues, were showing the bad side of the temple power structure. Regardless of the reason, Pilate gets a better portrayal than he probably deserved!
An unfortunate side effect of this, which the writers of the gospels would never have dreamed possible, has been the persecution of Jews down through the centuries, by “Christians”. The blame for the crucifixion, placed on the Jewish leaders, became the basis over thousands of years for the persecution of all Jews. Let us remember that it was all of us for whom Jesus died – we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all share the guilt of the crucifixion.
The religious leaders accuse Jesus, not of blasphemy, as they had in their trial, but of treason, of claiming to be king of the Jews, leading an insurrection against Caesar. Pilate asks Jesus if this is true, is he the King of the Jews? And Jesus replies, “You say so.” After this Jesus does not answer at all – he has a right to defend himself; he chooses to remain silent. This puzzles Pilate; he is accustomed to people begging and crying before him. But Jesus remains silent.