The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ - A Devotional History of our Lord's Passion
by James Stalker
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A Devotional History of our Lord's Passion.













Ever since I wrote, in a contracted form, The Life of Jesus Christ, the desire has slumbered in my mind to describe on a much more extended scale the closing passages of the Saviour's earthly history; and, although renewed study has deepened my sense of the impossibility of doing these scenes full justice, yet the subject has never ceased to attract me, as being beyond all others impressive and remunerative.

The limits of our Lord's Passion are somewhat indeterminate. Krummacher begins with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Tauler with the Feet-washing before the Last Supper, and Rambach with Gethsemane; most end with the Death and Burial; but Grimm, a Roman Catholic, the latest writer on the subject, means to extend his Leidensgeschichte to the end of the Forty Days. Taking the word "passion" in the strict sense, I have commenced at the point where, by falling into the hands of His enemies, our Lord was deprived of voluntary activity; and I have finished with the Burial. No doubt the same unique greatness belongs to the scenes of the previous evening; and I should like to write of Christ among His Friends as I have here written of Him among His Foes; but for this purpose a volume at least as large as the present one would be requisite; and the portion here described has an obvious unity of its own.

The bibliography of the Passion is given with considerable fulness in Zoeckler's Das Kreuz Christi; but a good many of the books there enumerated may be said to have been superseded by the monumental work of Nebe, Die Leidensgeschichte unsers Herrn Hesu Christi (2 vols., 1881), which, though not a work of genius, is written on so comprehensive a plan and with such abundance of learning that nothing could better serve the purpose of anyone who wishes to draw the skeleton before painting the picture. Of the numerous Lives of Christ those by Keim and Edersheim are worthy of special notice in this part of the history, because of the fulness of information from classical sources in the one and from Talmudical in the other. Steinmeyer (Leidensgeschichte) is valuable on apologetic questions. On the Seven Words from the Cross there is an extensive special literature. Schleiermacher and Tholuck are remarkably good; and there are volumes by Baring-Gould, Scott Holland and others.

In the sub-title I have called this book a Devotional History, because the subject is one which has to be studied with the heart as well as the head. But I have not on this account written in the declamatory and interrogatory style common in devotional works. I have to confess that some even of the most famous books on the Passion are to me intolerably tedious, because they are written, so to speak, in oh's and ah's. Surely this is not essential to devotion. The scenes of the Passion ought, indeed, to stir the depths of the heart; but this purpose is best attained, not by the narrator displaying his own emotions, but, as is shown in the incomparable model of the Gospels, by the faithful exhibition of the facts themselves.

GLASGOW, 1894.




Matt. xxvi. 47-56; Mark xiv. 43-50; Luke xxii. 47-53; John viii. 1-11.


Matt. xxvi. 57-68; Mark xiv. 51-65; Luke xxii. 54-71; John xviii. 12-14, 19-24.


Matt. xxvi. 69-75; Mark xiv. 66-72; Luke xxii. 54-62; John xviii. 15-18, 25-7.


Matt. xxvii. 11; Mark xv. 2; Luke xxiii. 2-4; John xviii. 28-38.


Luke xxiii. 5-12.


Matt. xxvii. 15-23; Mark xv. 6-14; Luke xxiii. 13-25; John xviii. 39, 40.


Matt. xxvii. 26-30; Mark xv. 15-20; Luke xxiii. 25; John xix. 1-5.


Matt. xxvii. 24, 25; Mark xv. 15; Luke xxiii. 25; John xix. 5-16.


Matt. xxvii. 3-10; Acts i. 18, 19.


Matt. xxvii. 31-3; Mark xv. 20, 21; Luke xxiii. 26; John xix. 16, 17.


Luke xxiii. 27-31.


Matt. xxvii. 33-8; Mark xv. 27, 28; Luke xxiii. 32, 33; John xix. 18-22.


Matt. xxvii. 39-44, 55, 56; Mark xv. 29-32; Luke xxiii. 35-7, 49; John xix. 23-5.


Luke xxiii. 34.


Luke xxiii. 39-43.


John xix. 25-27.


Matt. xxvii. 46-9; Mark xv. 34-6.


John xix. 28.


John xix. 30.


Luke xxiii. 46.


Matt. xxvii. 50-4; Mark xv. 38, 39; Luke xxiii. 44, 45, 47.


John xix. 31-7.


Matt. xxvii. 57-61; Mark xv. 42-7; Luke xxiii. 50-6; John xix. 38-42.



Our study of the closing scenes of the life of our Lord begins at the point where He fell into the hands of the representatives of justice; and this took place at the gate of Gethsemane and at the midnight hour.

On the eastern side of Jerusalem, the ground slopes downwards to the bed of the Brook Kedron; and on the further side of the stream rises the Mount of Olives. The side of the hill was laid out in gardens or orchards belonging to the inhabitants of the city; and Gethsemane was one of these. There is no probability that the enclosure now pointed out to pilgrims at the foot of the hill is the actual spot, or that the six aged olive trees which it contains are those to the silent shadows of which the Saviour used to resort; but the scene cannot have been far away, and the piety which lingers with awe in the traditional site cannot be much mistaken.

The agony in Gethsemane was just over, when "lo," as St. Matthew says, "Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude." They had come down from the eastern gate of the city and were approaching the entrance to the garden. It was full moon, and the black mass was easily visible, moving along the dusty road.

The arrest of Christ was not made by two or three common officers of justice. The "great multitude" has to be taken literally, but not in the sense of a disorderly crowd. As it was at the instance of the ecclesiastical authorities that the apprehension took place, their servants—the Levitical police of the temple—were to the front. But, as Jesus had at least eleven resolute men with Him, and these might rouse incalculable numbers of His adherents on the way to the city, it had been considered judicious to ask from the Roman governor a division of soldiers,[1] which, at the time of the Passover, was located in the fortress of Antonia, overlooking the temple, to intervene in any emergency. And some of the members of the Sanhedrim had even come themselves, so eager were they to see that the design should not miscarry. This composite force was armed with swords and staves—the former weapon belonging perhaps to the Roman soldiers and the latter to the temple police—and they carried lanterns and torches, probably because they expected to have to hunt for Jesus and His followers in the recesses of His retreat. Altogether it was a formidable body: they were determined to make assurance doubly sure.


The leader of them was Judas. Of the general character of this man, and the nature of his crime, enough will be said later; but here we must note that there were special aggravations in his mode of carrying out his purpose.

He profaned the Passover. The better day, says the proverb, the better deed. But, if a deed is evil, it is the worse if it is done on a sacred day. The Passover was the most sacred season of the entire year; and this very evening was the most sacred of the Passover week. It was as if a crime should in Scotland be committed by a member of the Church on the night of a Communion Sabbath, or in England on Christmas Day.

He invaded the sanctuary of his Master's devotions. Gethsemane was a favourite resort of Jesus; Judas had been there with Him, and he knew well for what purpose He frequented it. But the respect due to a place of prayer did not deter him; on the contrary, he took advantage of his Master's well-known habit.

But the crowning profanation, for which humanity will never forgive him, was the sign by which he had agreed to make his Master known to His enemies. It is probable that he came on in front, as if he did not belong to the band behind; and, hurrying towards Jesus, as if to apprise Him of His danger and condole with Him on so sad a misfortune as His apprehension, he flung himself on His neck, sobbing, "Master, Master!" and not only did he kiss Him, but he did so repeatedly or fervently: so the word signifies.[2] As long as there is true, pure love in the world, this act will be hated and despised by everyone who has ever given or received this token of affection. It was a sin against the human heart and all its charities. But none can feel its horror as it must have been felt by Jesus. That night and the next day His face was marred in many ways: it was furrowed by the bloody sweat; it was bruised with blows; they spat upon it; it was rent with thorns: but nothing went so close to His heart as the profanation of this kiss. As another said, who had been similarly treated: "It was not an enemy that reproached me, then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me, then I would have hid myself from him; but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide and mine acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company." [3] Before the kiss was given, Jesus still received him with the old name of Friend; but, after being stung with it, He could not keep back the annihilating question, "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?"

The kiss was the sign of discipleship. In the East, students used to kiss their rabbis; and in all likelihood this custom prevailed between Christ and His disciples. When we become His disciples, we may be said to kiss Him; and every time we renew the pledge of our loyalty we may be said to repeat this act. We do so especially in the Lord's Supper. In our baptism He may be said to take us up in His arms and kiss us; in the other sacrament we obtain the opportunity of returning this mark of affection.


Probably Judas, being ahead of the band he was leading, went somewhat into the shadows of the garden to reach Jesus; and no doubt it was expected that Jesus would try to get away. But, instead of doing so, He shook Himself free from Judas and, coming forward at once into the moonlight, demanded, "Whom seek ye?"

At this they were so startled that they reeled back and, stepping one on another, fell to the ground.

Similar incidents are related of famous men. The Roman Marius, for instance, was in prison at Minturnae when Sylla sent orders that he should be put to death. A Gaulish slave was sent to dispatch him; but, at the sight of the man who had shaken the world, and who cried out, "Fellow, darest thou to slay Caius Marius?" the soldier threw down his weapon and fled.[4]

There are many indications scattered through the Gospels that, especially in moments of high emotion, there was something extraordinarily subduing in the aspect and voice of Christ.[5] On the occasion, for example, when He cleared the temple, the hardened profaners of the place, though numerous and powerful, fled in terror before Him. And the striking notice of Him as He was going up to Jerusalem for the last time will be remembered: "Jesus went before them, and they were amazed; and, as they followed, they were afraid."

On this occasion the emotion of Gethsemane was upon Him—the rapt sense of victory and of a mind steeled to go through with its purpose—and perhaps there remained on His face some traces of the Agony, which scared the onlookers. It is not necessary to suppose that there was anything preternatural, though part of the terror of His captors may have been the dread lest He should destroy them by a miracle. Evidently Judas was afraid of something of this kind when he said, "Take Him and lead Him away safely."

The truth is, they were caught, instead of catching Him. It was a mean, treacherous errand they were on. They were employing a traitor as their guide. They expected to come upon Christ, perhaps when He was asleep, in silence and by stealth; or, if He were awake, they thought that they would have to pursue Him into a lurking-place, where they would find Him trembling and at bay. They were to surprise Him, but, when He came forth fearless, rapt and interrogative, He surprised them, and compelled them to take an altogether unexpected attitude. He brought all above board and put them to shame.

How ridiculous now looked their cumbrous preparations—all these soldiers, the swords and staves, the torches and lanterns, now burning pale in the clear moonlight. Jesus made them feel it. He made them feel what manner of spirit they were of, and how utterly they had mistaken His views and spirit. "Whom seek ye?" He asked them again, to compel them to see that they were not taking Him, but that He was giving Himself up. He was completely master of the situation. Singling out the Sanhedrists, who probably at that moment would rather have kept in the background, He demanded, pointing to their excessive preparations, "Be ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against Me." He, a solitary man, though He knew how many were against Him, had not been afraid: He taught daily in the temple—in the most public place, at the most public hour. But they, numerous and powerful as they were, yet were afraid, and so they had chosen the midnight hour for their nefarious purpose. "This is your hour," He said, "and the power of darkness." This midnight hour is your hour, because ye are sons of night, and the power ye wield against Me is the power of darkness.

So spake the Lion of the tribe of Judah! So will He speak on that day when all His enemies shall be put under His feet. "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."


We cannot recall to mind too often that it was the victory in the Garden that accounted for this triumph outside the gate. The irresistible dignity and strength here displayed were gained by watching and prayer.

This, however, is made still more impressively clear by the fate of those who did not watch and pray. On them everything came as a blinding and bewildering surprise. They were aroused out of profound slumber, and came stumbling forward hardly yet awake. When hands were laid on Jesus, one of the disciples cried, "Shall we smite with the sword?" And, without waiting for an answer, he struck. But what a ridiculous blow! How like a man half-awake! Instead of the head, he only smote the ear. This blow would have been dearly paid for had not Jesus, with perfect presence of mind, interposed between Peter and the swords which were being drawn to cut him down. "Suffer ye thus far," He said, keeping the soldiers back; and, touching the ear, He healed it, and saved His poor disciple.

Surely it was even with a smile that Jesus said to Peter, "Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." Inside the scabbard, not outside, was the sword's place; it was out of place in this cause; and those who wield the sword without just reason, and without receiving the orders of competent authority, are themselves liable to give life for life.

But it was with the high-strung eloquence with which He had spoken to His enemies that Jesus further showed Peter how inconsistent was his act. It was inconsistent with his Master's dignity; "For," said He, "if I ask My Father, He would presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels;" and what against such a force were this miscellaneous band, numbering at the most the tenth part of a legion of men? It was inconsistent with Scripture: "How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" It was inconsistent with His own purpose and His Father's will: "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?"

Poor Peter! On this occasion he was thoroughly like himself. There was a kind of rightness and nobleness in what he did; but it was in the wrong place. If he had only been as prompt inside Gethsemane to do what he was bidden as outside it to do what he was not bidden! How much better if he could have drawn the spiritual sword and cut on the ear which was to be betrayed by a maid-servant's taunt! Peter's conduct on this occasion, as often on other occasions, showed how poor a guide enthusiasm is when it is not informed with the mind and spirit of Christ.


Perhaps it was by the recollection of how deeply he had vowed to stick by Christ, even if he should have to die with Him, that Peter was pricked on to do something. The others, however, had said the same thing. Did they remember it now? It is to be feared, not: the apparition of mortal danger drove everything out of their minds but the instinct of self-preservation. Sometimes, in cases of severe illness, especially of mental disease, the curious effect may be observed—that a face into which years of culture have slowly wrought the stamp of refinement and dignity entirely loses this, and reverts to the original peasant type. So the fright of their Master's arrest, coming so suddenly on the prayerless and unprepared disciples, undid, for the time, what their years of intercourse with Him had effected; and they sank back into Galilean fishermen again. This was really what they were from the arrest to the resurrection.

Here again their conduct is in absolute contrast with their Master's. As a mother-bird, when her brood is assailed, goes forward to meet the enemy, or as a good shepherd stands forth between his flock and danger, so Jesus, when His captors drew nigh, threw Himself between them and His followers. It was partly with this in view that He went so boldly out and concentrated attention on Himself by the challenge, "Whom seek ye?" When they replied, "Jesus of Nazareth," He said, "I am He: if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way." And the fright into which they were thrown made them forget His followers in their anxiety to secure Himself.

This was as He intended. St. John, in narrating it, makes the curious remark, that this was done that the saying might be fulfilled which He spake, "Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none." This saying occurs in His great intercessory prayer, offered at the first Communion table; but in its original place it evidently means that He had lost none of them in a spiritual sense, whereas here it seems to have only the sense of losing any of them by the swords of the soldiers or by the cross, if they had been arrested with Him. But a deep hint underlies this surface meaning. St. John suggests that, if any of them had been taken along with Him, the likelihood is that they would have been unequal to the crisis: they would have denied Him, and so, in the sadder sense, would have been lost.

Jesus, knowing too well that this was the state of the case, made for them a way of escape, and "they all forsook Him and fled." It was perhaps as well, for they might have done worse. Yet what an anticlimax to the asseveration which everyone of them had made that very evening, "If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise!" I have sometimes thought what an honour it would have been to Christianity, what a golden leaf in the history of human nature, had one or two of them—say, the brothers James and John—been strong enough to go with Him to prison and to death. We should, indeed, have missed St. John's writings in that case—his Revelation, Gospel and Epistles. But what a revelation that would have been, what a gospel, what a living epistle!

It was not, however, to be. Jesus had to go unaccompanied: "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me." So they "bound Him and led Him away."

[1] Speira=cohors, tenth part of legion. See Ramsay, R.A., 381.

[2] katephilesen. It is used of the woman who was a sinner, when she kissed the feet of the Saviour.

[3] Psalm lv. 13-14.

[4] Other instances in Sueskind, Passionsschule, in loc.

[5] See fuller details in Imago Christi, last chapter.



Over the Kedron, up the slope to the city, through the gates, along the silent streets, the procession passed, with Jesus in the midst; midnight stragglers, perhaps, hurrying forward from point to point to ask what was ado, and peering towards the Prisoner's face, before they diverged again towards their own homes.[1] He was conducted to the residence of the high priest, where His trial ensued.

Jesus had to undergo two trials—the one ecclesiastical, the other civil; the one before Caiaphas the high priest, the other before Pontius Pilate the governor.

The reason of this was, that Judaea was at that time under Roman rule, forming a portion of the Roman province of Syria and administered by a Roman official, who resided in the splendid new seaport of Caesarea, fifty miles away from Jerusalem, but had also a palace in Jerusalem, which he occasionally visited.

It was not the policy of Rome to strip the countries of which she became mistress of all power. She flattered them by leaving in their hands at least the insignia of self-government, and she conceded to them as much home rule as was compatible with the retention of her paramount authority. She was specially tolerant in matters of religion. Thus the ancient ecclesiastical tribunal of the Jews, the Sanhedrim, was still allowed to try all religious questions and punish offenders. Only, if the sentence chanced to be a capital one, the case had to be re-tried by the governor, and the carrying out of the sentence, if it was confirmed, devolved upon him.

It was at the instance of the ecclesiastical authorities that Jesus was arrested, and they condemned Him to death; but they were not at liberty to carry out their sentence: they had to take Him before Pilate, who chanced at the time to be in the city, and he tried the case over again, they of course being the accusers at his bar.

Not only were there two trials, but in each trial there were three separate stages or acts. In the first, or ecclesiastical trial, Jesus had first to appear before Annas, then before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrim during the night, and again before the same body after daybreak. And in the second, or civil trial, He appeared first before Pilate, who refused to confirm the judgment of the Jews; then Pilate attempted to rid himself of the case by sending the Culprit to Herod of Galilee, who happened also to be at the time in Jerusalem; but the case came back to the Roman governor again, and, against his conscience, he confirmed the capital sentence.

But let me explain more fully what were the three acts in the ecclesiastical trial.[2]

Jesus, we are informed by St. John, was taken first to Annas. This was an old man of seventy years, who had been high priest twenty years before. As many as five of his sons succeeded him in this office, which at that period was not a life appointment, but was generally held only for a short time; and the reigning high priest at this time, Caiaphas, was his son-in-law. Annas was a man of very great consequence, the virtual head of ecclesiastical affairs, though Caiaphas was the nominal head. He had come originally from Alexandria in Egypt on the invitation of Herod the Great. He and his family were an able, ambitious and arrogant race. As their numbers multiplied, they became a sort of ruling caste, pushing themselves into all important offices. They were Sadducees, and were perfect types of that party—cold, haughty, worldly. They were intensely unpopular in the country; but they were feared as much as they were disliked. Greedy of gain, they ground the people with heavy ritual imposts. It is said that the traffic within the courts of the temple, which Jesus condemned so sternly a few days before, was carried on not only with their connivance but for their enrichment. If this was the case, the conduct of Jesus on that occasion may have profoundly incensed the high-priestly caste against Him.

Indeed, it was probably the depth of his hatred which made Annas wish to see Jesus in the hands of justice. The wary Sadducee had in all likelihood taken a leading part in the transaction with Judas and in the sending out of the troops for Christ's apprehension. He, therefore, waited out of bed to see what the upshot was to be; and those who took Jesus brought Him to Annas first. But whatever interrogation Annas may have subjected Him to was entirely informal.[3]

It allowed time, however, to get together the Sanhedrim. Messengers were dispatched to scour the city for the members at the midnight hour, because the case was urgent and could not brook delay. None knew what might happen if the multitude, when it awoke in the morning, found the popular Teacher in the hands of His unpopular enemies. But, if the trial were all over before daybreak and Jesus already in the strong hands of the Romans before the multitude had learnt that anything was going on, there would be nothing to fear. So the Sanhedrim was assembled under cloud of night; and the proceedings went forward in the small hours of the morning in the house of Caiaphas, to which Jesus had been removed.

This was not strictly legal, however, because the letter of the law did not allow this court to meet by night. On this account, although the proceedings were complete and the sentence agreed upon during the night, it was considered necessary to hold another sitting at daybreak. This was the third stage of the trial; but it was merely a brief rehearsal, for form's sake, of what had been already done.[4] Therefore, we must return to the proceedings during the night, which contain the kernel of the matter.

Imagine, then, a large room forming one side of the court of an Oriental house, from which it is separated only by a row of pillars, so that what is going on in the lighted interior is visible to those outside. The room is semicircular. Round the arc of the semicircle the half-hundred or more[5] members sit on a divan. Caiaphas, the president, occupies a kind of throne in the centre of the opposite wall. In front stands the Accused, facing him, with the jailers on the one side and the witnesses on the other.

How ought any trial to commence? Surely with a clear statement of the crime alleged and with the production of witnesses to support the charge. But, instead of beginning in this way, "the high priest asked Jesus of His disciples and of His doctrine."

The insinuation was that He was multiplying disciples for some secret design and teaching them a secret doctrine, which might be construed into a project of revolution. Jesus, still throbbing with the indignity of being arrested under cloud of night, as if He were anxious to escape, and by a force so large as to suggest that He was the head of a revolutionary band, replied, with lofty self-consciousness, "Why askest thou Me? Ask them that heard Me what I have said unto them; behold, they know what I said." Why had they arrested Him if they had yet to learn what He had said and done? They were trying to make Him out to be an underground schemer; but they, with their arrests in secrecy and their midnight trials, were themselves the sons of darkness.

Such simple and courageous speech was alien to that place, which knew only the whining of suppliants, the smooth flatteries of sycophants, and the diplomatic phrases of advocates; and a jailer, perhaps seeing the indignant blush mount into the face of the high priest, clenched his fist and struck Jesus on the mouth, asking, "Answerest Thou the high priest so?" Poor hireling! better for him that his hand had withered ere it struck that blow. Almost the same thing once happened to St. Paul in the same place, and he could not help hurling back a stinging epithet of contempt and indignation. Jesus was betrayed into no such loss of temper. But what shall be said of a tribunal, and an ecclesiastical tribunal, which could allow an untried Prisoner to be thus abused in open court by one of its minions?

The high priest had, however, been stopped on the tack which he had first tried, and was compelled to do what he ought to have begun with—to call witnesses. But this, too, turned out a pitiful failure. They had not had time to get a charge properly made out and witnesses cited; and there was no time to wait. Evidence had to be extemporized; and it was swept up apparently from the underlings and hangers on of the court. It is expressly said by St. Matthew that "they sought false witness against Jesus to put Him to death." To put Him to death was what in their hearts they were resolved upon,—they were only trying to trump up a legal pretext, and they were not scrupulous. The attempt was, however, far from successful. The witnesses could not be got to agree together or to tell a consistent story. Many were tried, but the fiasco grew more and more ridiculous.

At length two were got to agree about something they had heard from Him, out of which, it was hoped, a charge could be constructed. They had heard Him say, "I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands." It was a sentence of His early ministry, obviously of high poetic meaning, which they were reproducing as the vulgarest prose; although, even thus interpreted, it is difficult to see what they could have made of it; because, if the first half of it meant that He was to destroy the temple, the second promised to restore it again. The high priest saw too well that they were making nothing of it; and, starting up and springing forward, he demanded of Jesus, "Answerest Thou nothing? What is it which these witness against Thee?" He affected to believe that it was something of enormity that had been alleged; but it was really because he knew that nothing could be founded on it that he gave way to such unseemly excitement.

Jesus had looked on in absolute silence while the witnesses against Him were annihilating one another; nor did He now answer a word in response to the high priest's interruption. He did not need to speak: silence spoke better than the loudest words could have done. It brought home to His judges the ridiculousness and the shamefulness of their position. Even their hardened consciences began to be uneasy, as that calm Face looked down on them and their procedure with silent dignity. It was by the uneasiness which he was feeling that the high priest was made so loud and shrill.

In short, he had been beaten along this second line quite as completely as he had been along the first. But he had still a last card, and now he played it. Returning to his throne and confronting Jesus with theatrical solemnity, he said, "I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God." That is to say, he put Him on oath to tell what He claimed to be; for among the Jews the oath was pronounced by the judge, not by the prisoner.

This was one of the great moments in the life of Christ. Apparently He recognised the right of the high priest to put Him on oath; or at least He saw that silence now might be construed into the withdrawal of His claims. He knew, indeed, that the question was put merely for the purpose of incriminating Him, and that to answer it meant death to Himself. But He who had silenced those by whom the title of Messiah had been thrust upon Him, when they wished to make Him a king, now claimed the title when it was the signal for condemnation. Decidedly and solemnly He answered, "Yes, I am"; and, as if the crisis had caused within Him a great access of self-consciousness, He proceeded, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." [6] For the moment they were His judges, but one day He would be their Judge; it was only of His earthly life that they could dispose, but He would have to dispose of their eternal destiny.

It has often been said that Christians have claimed for Christ what He never claimed for Himself; that He never claimed to be any more than a man, but they have made Him a God. But this great statement, made upon oath, must impress every honest mind. Every effort has, indeed, been made to deplete its terms of their importance and to reduce them to the lowest possible value. It is argued, for example, that, when the high priest asked if He were "the Son of God," he meant no more than when he asked if He were "the Christ." But what is to be said of Christ's description of Himself as "sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven"? Can He who is to be the Judge of men, searching their hearts to the bottom, estimating the value of their performances, and, in accordance with these estimates, fixing their eternal station and degree, be a mere man? The greatest and the wisest of men are well aware that in the history of every brother man, and even in the heart of a little child, there are secrets and mysteries which they cannot fathom. No mere man can accurately measure the character of a fellow-creature; he cannot even estimate his own.

How this great confession lifts the whole scene! We see no longer these small men and their sordid proceedings; but the Son of man bearing witness to Himself in the audience of the universe. How little we care now what the Jewish judges will say about Him! This great confession reverberates down the ages, and the heart of the world, as it hears it from His lips, says, Amen.

The high priest had achieved his end at last. As a high priest was expected to do when he heard blasphemy, he rent his clothes, and, turning to his colleagues, he said, "What need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy." And they all assented that Jesus was guilty, and that the sentence must be death.

Sometimes good-hearted Bible-readers, in perusing these scenes, are troubled with the thought that the judges of Jesus were conscientious. Was it not their duty, when anyone came forward with Messianic pretensions, to judge whether or not his claim was just? and did they not honestly believe that Jesus was not what He professed to be? No doubt they did honestly believe so. We must ascend to a much earlier period to be able to judge their conduct accurately. It was when the claims of Jesus were first submitted to them that they went astray. He, being such as He was, could only have been welcomed and appreciated by expectant, receptive, holy minds. The ecclesiastical authorities of Judaea in that age were anything but expectant, receptive and holy. They were totally incapable of understanding Him, and saw no beauty that they should desire Him. As He often told them Himself, being such as they were, they could not believe. The fault lay not so much in what they did as in what they were. Being in the wrong path, they went forward to the end. It may be said that they walked according to their light; but the light that was in them was darkness. Their proceedings, however, on this occasion will not tend to soften the heart of anyone who looks into them carefully. They had hardly the least show of justice. There was no regular charge or regular evidence, and no thought whatever of allowing the Accused to bring counter-evidence; the same persons were both accusers and judges; the sentence was a foregone conclusion; and the entire proceedings consisted of a series of devices to force the Accused into some statement which would supply a colourable pretext for condemning Him.[7]

But it was by what ensued after the sentence of condemnation was passed that these men cut themselves off forever from the sympathy of the tolerant and generous. A court of law ought to be a place of dignity; when a great issue is tried and a solemn judgment passed, it ought to impress the judges themselves; even the condemned, when a death sentence has been passed, ought to be hedged round with a certain awe and respect. But that blow inflicted with impunity at the commencement of the trial by a minion of the court was too clear an index of the state of mind of all present. There was no solemnity or greatness of any kind in their thoughts; nothing but resentment and spite at Him who had thwarted and defied them, lessened them in the public estimation and stopped their unholy gains. A perfect sea of such feelings had long been gathering in their hearts; and now, when the opportunity came, it broke loose upon Him. They struck Him with their sticks; they spat in His face; they drew something over His head and, smiting Him again, cried, "Christ, prophesy who smote Thee." [8] One would wish to believe that it was only by the miserable underlings that such things were done; but the narrative makes it too clear that the masters led the way and the servants followed.

There are terrible things in man. There are some depths in human nature into which it is scarcely safe to look. It was by the very perfection of Christ that the uttermost evil of His enemies was brought out. There is a passage in "Paradise Lost," where a band of angels, sent out to scour Paradise in search of Satan, who is hidden in the garden, discover him in the shape of a toad "squat at the ear of Eve." Ithuriel, one of the band, touches him with his spear, whereat, surprised, he starts up in his own shape,—

"for no falsehood can endure Touch of celestial temper, but returns Of force to its own likeness."

But the touch of perfect goodness has often the opposite effect: it transforms the angel into the toad, which is evil's own likeness.

Christ was now getting into close grips with the enemy He had come to this world to overcome; and, as it clutched Him for the final wrestle, it exhibited all its ugliness and discharged all its venom.[9] The claw of the dragon was in His flesh, and its foul breath in His mouth. We cannot conceive what such insult and dishonour must have been to His sensitive and regal mind. But He rallied His heart to endure and not to faint; for He had come to be the death of sin, and its death was to be the salvation of the world.

[1] Here would come in the curious little notice in St. Mark: "And there followed Him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him; and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked"; on which I have not commented, not well knowing, in truth, what to make of it. It may be designed to show the rudeness of the soldiery, and the peril in which any follower of Jesus would have been had he been caught. Some have supposed that the young man was St. Mark, and that this is the painter's signature in an obscure corner of his picture. (See Holzmann in Handcommentar zum Neuen Testament.) In the first volume of the Expositor there is a paper on the subject by Dr. Cox, but it does not throw much light on it.

[2] On the Sanhedrim and the high priests see Schuerer, The Jewish People in the Time of Christ, div. ii., vol. i.

[3] This, many think, is what is given in St. John.

[4] Many think that this is what is given in St. Luke.

[5] The full number was seventy-one, including the president.

[6] See Psalm cx. 1, and Dan. vii. 13.

[7] Even Jost, the Jewish historian, calls it a murder; but he does not believe that there was an actual trial; and in this Edersheim agrees with him.

[8] In allusion to His claim to be the Messianic Prophet. The Roman soldiers, on the other hand, ridiculed His claim to be a King.

[9] "The central figure is the holiest Person in history, but round Him stand or strive the most opposed and contrasted moral types. . . . The men who touch Him in this supreme hour of His history do so only to have their essential character disclosed."—FAIRBAIRN.



To the ecclesiastical trial of our Lord there is a side-piece, over which we must linger before proceeding to the civil trial. At the very hour when in the hall of the high priest's house Christ was uttering His great confession, one of His disciples was, in the court of the same building, pouring out denial after denial.


When Jesus was bound in Gethsemane and led away back to Jerusalem, all His disciples forsook Him and fled. They disappeared, I suppose, among the bushes and trees of the garden and escaped into the surrounding country or wherever they thought they would be safe.

But two of the Twelve—St. Peter and St. John, who tells the story—soon rallied from the first panic and followed, at a distance,[1] the band in whose midst their Master was. Keeping in the shadow of the trees by the roadside, keeping in the shadow of the houses in the streets, they stole after the moving mass. At last, when it got near its destination—the palace of the high priest—-they hurried forward; and St. John went in with the crowd; but somehow, probably through irresolution, St. Peter was left outside in the street; and the door was shut.

To understand what follows, it is necessary to describe more in detail the construction of such a house as the high priest's palace; for it was very unlike most of our houses. A Western house looks into the street, but an Oriental into its own interior, having no opening to the front except a great arched gateway, shut with a heavy door or gate. When this door is opened, it discloses a broad passage, penetrating the front building and leading into a square, paved courtyard, open to the sky, round which the house is built, and into which its rooms, both upstairs and downstairs, look. A similar arrangement is to be seen in some large warehouses in our own cities, or you may have seen it in large hotels on the Continent. It only requires to be added that on the side of the passage, inside the outer gate, there is a room or lodge for the porter or portress, who opens and shuts the gate; and in the gate there is a little wicket by which individuals can be let in or out.

When the band conducting Jesus appeared in front of the palace, no doubt the portress opened the large gate to admit them and then shut it again. They passed under the archway into the court, which they crossed, and then entered one of the apartments overlooking the courtyard. But the police and other underlings employed in the arrest, their work being now done, stayed outside, and, as it was midnight and the weather was cold, they lighted a fire there under the open sky and, gathering round it, began to warm themselves.

As has been said, John went in through the gate with the crowd, but Peter was somehow shut out. John, who seems to have occupied a higher social position than the rest of the Twelve, was known to the high priest, and, therefore, probably was acquainted with the palace and knew the servants; and, when he noticed that Peter had been left out, he went to the portress and got her to let him in by the wicket-gate.

It was a friendly act; and yet, as the event proved, it was unintentionally an ill turn: John led Peter into temptation. The best of friends may do this sometimes to one another; for the situation into which one man may enter without peril may be dangerous to another. One man may mingle freely in company which another cannot enter without terrible risks. There are amusements in which one Christian can take part, though they would ruin another if he touched them. A mind matured and disciplined may read books which would kindle the fire of hell in a mind less experienced. There are always two things that go to the making of a temptation: there is the particular set of circumstances to be encountered on the one hand, and there is the peculiar character or history of the person entering into the situation on the other. We need to remember this if we are to defend either ourselves or others against temptation.


John no doubt, as soon as he got Peter inside the door, hurried away across the court into the hall where Jesus was, to witness the proceedings.

Not so Peter. He was not familiar with the place as John was; and he had the shyness of a plain man at the sight of the inside of a great house. Besides, he was under fear of being recognized as a follower of Christ and apprehended. Now also the unlucky blow he had made at Malchus at the gate of Gethsemane had to be paid for, because it greatly increased his chance of detection.

He remained, therefore, just inside the great door, watching from the shadows of the archway what was going on inside, and, without knowing it, himself being watched by the portress from her coigne of vantage. He was ill at ease; for he did not know what to do. He did not dare to go, like John, into the judgment-hall. Perhaps he half wished he could get out into the street again. He was in a trap.

At last he strolled forward to the group round the fire and, sitting down among them, commenced to warm himself. It was a miscellaneous group there in the glare of the fire, and no notice was taken of him. He took his place as if he were one of them.

It was, however, a dangerous situation in another sense than he supposed. It was of bodily peril he was in terror; he did not anticipate danger to his soul; yet this was very near. It is always dangerous when a follower of Christ is sitting among Christ's enemies without letting it be known what he is. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." It is more than probable that when Peter sat down the air was ringing with jest and laughter about Jesus; but he did not interrupt: he kept silence and tried to look as like one of the scorners as he could. But not to confess Christ is the next step to denying Him.

Temptation, as is its wont, came suddenly and from the most unexpected quarter. As has been said, when he was skulking beneath the archway, his movements were noted by the portress. They were suspicious, and she, with a woman's cleverness, divined his secret. Accordingly, when she was relieved at her post by another maid, she not only pointed him out to this companion and communicated to her what she thought about him, but, in passing to her room, she went up to the fire among the soldiers and, looking him straight in the face, said, with a malicious twinkle in her eye, This is one of the Nazarene's followers.

Peter was taken completely by surprise. It was as if a mask had been torn from his face. In a moment the instinct of terror seized him; perhaps, too, the instinct of shame at being thought a disciple of Him they were mocking. Indeed, there was a further shame: how could he confess himself the disciple of the Master whom he had heard blasphemed without protest? He had denied his Master in act before he denied Him in word; and the preceding act made the word also necessary. "I do not know what you mean," he said, with a surly frown; and away she tripped laughing, having done her work quite successfully.

None pursued the subject. But Peter was uneasy, and took the earliest opportunity of escaping from the fireside. He went away into the archway, intending apparently, if he could, to get out of the place altogether. But here the trap was closed; for the other maid, whose attention had been directed to him, and who may have been laughing from a distance at her neighbour's sally, was standing at the door of her lodge, with two or three men; and, pointing him out to them as he came forward, she said, "That is one of the Nazarene's followers."

Poor Peter! felled to the ground a second time by the touch of a woman's hand. But how often has the saucy tongue and jeering laugh of a woman made a man ashamed of the highest and holiest! Peter flung at her an angry oath and, turning on his heel, went back again to the fire.

He was now completely panic-stricken, and lost all self-control. He was boiling with conflicting emotions and could not keep quiet. Assuming an air of defiance and indifference, he plunged into the conversation, speaking loudly to throw off suspicion, but really defeating his own object; for he drew attention on himself, and they scanned him the more narrowly the more excited he became. A relative of Malchus, whose ear he had cut off, recognised him. His loud country voice and rough Galilean accent aroused the suspicions of others. To bait such a pretender was a welcome diversion in the idle night, and soon they were all in full cry after the quarry.

Peter was thoroughly lost; like a bull in the arena attacked and stabbed on every side, he became blind with rage, terror and shame; and, pouring out denials, he added to them oaths and curses hurled at his adversaries.

The latter element was, no doubt, the resurrection of an old fisherman's habit, long since dead and buried. Peter was just the man likely to be a profane swearer in his youth—the headlong man of temper, who likes to say a thing with as much emphasis and exaggeration as possible. This is a sin whose power is generally broken instantly at conversion. While there are sins which linger on for years and require to be crucified by inches, profane swearing often dies an instantaneous death. But even in this case it is difficult to get quit of the evil past. In Peter this sin may have seemed to die at his conversion; for years it had been dead and buried; yet, when the favourable moment came, lo and behold, there it was again in vigorous life. Old habits of sin are hard to kill. We seem to have killed and buried them; but do you not sometimes hear a knocking beneath the ground? do you not feel the dead thing turning in its coffin, and see the earth moving above its grave? This is the penalty of the days given to the flesh. Till his dying day the man who has been a drunkard or a fornicator, a liar or a swearer, will have to keep watch and ward over the graveyard in which he has buried the past.

Yet there was a kind of method in the madness of Peter's profanity. When he wanted to prove that he was none of Christ's, he could not do better than take to cursing. They did not credit his assertions that he had no connection with his Master, but they could not help believing his sins. Nobody belonging to Jesus, they knew, would speak as Peter was doing. It is one of the strongest testimonies to Jesus still, that even those who do not believe in Him expect cleanness of speech and of conduct from His followers, and are astonished if those who bear His name do things which when done by others are matters of course.


While Peter was in the midst of this outbreak of denial and profanity, suddenly he saw the eyes of his tormentors turned away from him to another object.[2] It was Jesus, whom His enemies had condemned in the neighbouring judgment-hall, and whom they were now leading, amidst blows and reproaches, across the courtyard to the guard-room, where He was to be kept for two or three hours till a subsequent stage of His trial came on. As Jesus stepped down out of the hall into the courtyard, His ear had caught the accents of His disciple, and, stung with unutterable anguish, He turned quickly round in the direction whence the sounds proceeded. At the same moment Peter turned, and they looked one another full in the face. Jesus did not speak; for a single syllable, even of surprise, would have betrayed His disciple. Nor could He linger; for the soldiers were hurrying Him on. But for a single instant their eyes met, and soul looked into soul. Who shall say what was in that look of Christ?[3] There may be a world in a look. It may be more eloquent than a whole volume of words. It may reveal far more than the lips can ever utter. One soul may give itself away to another in a look. A look may beatify or plunge in the depths of despair.

The look of Jesus was a talisman dissolving the spell in which Peter was held. Sin is always a kind of temporary madness; and it was manifestly so in this case. Peter was so bewildered with terror, anger and excitement that he did not know what he was doing. But the look of Jesus brought him to himself, and immediately he acted like a man. He made at once for the exit with impetuous speed.[4] And now nothing stood in his way: he got past the maid and her companions without trouble. For, indeed, the trap of temptation is only an illusion. To a resolute man it presents no obstacles.

But further, the look of Christ was a mirror in which Peter saw himself. He saw what Christ thought of him. The past came rushing back. He was the man who, in a great and never-to-be-forgotten moment, had confessed Christ and earned His hearty recognition. He was the man who, a few hours ago, had vowed, above all the rest, that he never would deny his Master. And now he had deserted Him and wounded Him to the heart in His utmost need. He had placed himself among His enemies as one of themselves and, with oaths and curses, trodden His sacred name beneath his feet. He had put off the disciple and reverted to the rudeness of his godless youth. He was a perjured traitor. All this was in that look of Christ.

But there was far more in it. It was a rescuing look. If any friend had met Peter rushing out from the scene of his sin, he might well have been terrified for what might happen. Where was he rushing to? Was it to the precipice over which Judas plunged not many hours afterwards? Peter was not very far from that. Had it been an angry look he saw on Christ's face when their eyes met, this might have been his fate. But there was not a spark of anger in it. There was pain, no doubt, and there was immeasurable disappointment. But deeper than these—rising up from below them and submerging them—there was the Saviour's instinct, that instinct which made Him reach out His hand and grasp Peter when he was sinking in the sea. With this same instinct He grasped Him now.

In that look of an instant Peter saw forgiveness and unutterable love. If he saw himself in it, he saw still more his Saviour—such a revelation of the heart of Christ as he had never yet known. He saw now what kind of Master he had denied; and it broke his heart. It is this that always breaks the heart. It is not our sin that makes us weep; it is when we see what kind of Saviour we have sinned against. He wept bitterly; not to wash out his sin, but because even already he knew it had been washed out. The former weeping is a pelting shower; this is the close, prolonged downpour, which penetrates deep and fertilises the plants of the soul at their very roots.

Indeed, this was the real beginning of all the good St. Peter was to do in the world. But we will not speak of this now. Let our last thought be of Him who, in the crisis and extremity of His own suffering, when He heard His name not only denied but mingled with oaths and curses, yielded not one moment to the resentment which such an act of treachery might have occasioned, but, forgetting His own sorrows and overmastered with the instincts of the Saviour, threw into a look such a world of kindness and of love that, in an instant, it lifted the falling disciple from the gulf and set him on the rock where he ever afterwards stood, himself a rock in the constancy of his faith and the vigor of his testimony.

[1] makrothen .

[2] It is to St. Luke we owe the account here given of Peter's awakening; but he also refers to the crowing of the cock, the only cause mentioned by the other Evangelists. There is no difficulty in understanding that such a psychological crisis may have been due to two lines of suggestion.

[3] Mrs. Browning's sonnets on this subject must be quoted in full:

"Two sayings of the Holy Scriptures beat Like pulses in the Church's brow and breast; And by them we find rest in our unrest, And, heart-deep in salt tears, do yet entreat God's fellowship, as if on heavenly seat. The first is JESUS WEPT; whereon is prest Full many a sobbing face, that drops its best And sweetest waters on the record sweet. And one is where the Christ, denied and scorned, LOOKED UPON PETER. Oh to render plain, By help of having loved a little and mourned, That look of sovran love and sovran pain, Which He, who could not sin yet suffered, turned On him who could reject but not sustain.

"The Saviour looked on Peter. Ay, no word, No gesture of reproach; the heavens serene, Though heavy with armed justice, did not lean Their thunders that way; the forsaken Lord Looked only on the traitor. None record What that look was; none guess; for those who have seen Wronged lovers loving through a death-pang keen, Or pale-cheeked martyrs smiling to a sword, Have missed Jehovah at the judgment call. And Peter from the height of blasphemy— 'I never knew this man'—did quail and fall, As knowing straight THAT GOD; and turned free, And went out speechless from the face of all, And filled the silence, weeping bitterly.

I think: that look of Christ might seem to say: 'Thou, Peter! art thou a common stone Which I at last must break My heart upon, For all God's charge to His high angels may Guard My feet better? Did I yesterday Wash thy feet, My beloved, that they should run Quick to destroy me 'neath the morning sun? And do thy kisses, like the rest, betray? The cock crows coldly. Go, and manifest A late contrition, but no bootless fear! For, when thy final need is dreariest, Thou shall not be denied, as I am here; My voice to God and angels shall attest, Because I KNOW this man, let him be clear.'"

[4] This may be the meaning of epibalon; but it is much disputed. Other interpretations are: (1) = epeballe klaiein, he began to weep; (2) with head covered—in mourning.



In the chapter before last we saw the Sanhedrim pass a death sentence on Jesus. Gladly would they have carried it out in the Jewish fashion—by stoning. But, as was then explained, it was not in their power: their Roman masters, while conceding to the native courts the power of trying and punishing minor offences, reserved to themselves the prerogative of life and death; and a case in which a capital sentence had been passed in a Jewish court had to go before the representative of Rome in the country, who tried it over again, and might either confirm or reverse the sentence. Accordingly, after passing sentence on Jesus themselves, the Sanhedrists had to lead Him away to the tribunal of the governor.


The representative of Imperial Rome in Palestine at this time was Pontius Pilate. The position which he held may perhaps be best realised by thinking of one of our own subordinate governors in India; with the difference, however, that it was a heathen, not a Christian power, that Pilate represented, and that it was the spirit of ancient Rome, not that of modern England, which inspired his administration. Of this spirit—the spirit of worldliness, diplomacy and expediency—he was a typical exponent; and we shall see how true to it he proved on this momentous day.[1]

Pilate had occupied his position for a good many years; yet he neither liked his subjects nor they him. The Jews were among the most intractable and difficult of all the states which the officials of Rome had to manage. Mindful of the glory of their ancient history, and still cherishing the hope of universal empire, they were impatient of the yoke of subordination; they were constantly discovering in the conduct of their rulers insults directed against their dignity or their religion; they complained of the heavy taxation and pestered their rulers with petitions. Pilate had not got on at all well with them. Between him and them there was no sympathy. He hated their fanaticism. In his quarrels with them, which were frequent, he had freely shed their blood. They accused him of corruption, cruelty, robbery, and maladministration of every description.

The residence of the governor was not in Jerusalem, in which no one accustomed to the pleasures of Rome—its theatres, baths, games, literature and society—could desire to live, but in the new coast city of Caesarea, which in its splendour and luxury was a sort of small imitation of Rome. Occasionally, however, the governor had to visit the capital for business reasons; and usually as on this occasion, he did so at the time of the Passover.

When there, he took up his residence in what had formerly been the royal palace while Judaea still had a king. It had been built by Herod the Great, who had a passion for architecture; and it was situated on the hill to the south-west of the one on which the temple stood. It was a splendid building,[2] rivalling the temple itself in appearance, and so large as to be capable of containing a small army. It consisted of two colossal wings, springing forward on either side, and a connecting building between. In front of the latter stretched a broad pavement; and here, in the open air, on a raised platform, was the scene of the trial; because the Jewish authorities would not enter the building, which to them was unclean. Pilate had to yield to their scruples, though probably cursing them in his heart. But, indeed, it was quite common for the Romans to hold courts of justice in the open air. The front of the palace, all round, was supported by massive pillars, forming broad, shady colonnades; and round the building there extended a park, with walks, trees and ponds, where fountains cast their sparkling jets high into the sunshine and flocks of tame doves plumed their feathers at the water's edge.

Through the huge gateway, then, of this palatial residence, the Jewish authorities, with their Prisoner in their midst, came pouring in the early morning. Pilate came out to receive them and seated himself on his chair of state, with his secretaries beside him, and behind him, no doubt, numbers of bronzed Roman soldiers with their stolid looks and upright spears. The Accused would have to ascend the platform, too; and over against Him stood His accusers, with Caiaphas at their head.

What a spectacle was that! The heads of the Jewish nation leading their own Messiah in chains to deliver Him up to a Gentile governor, with the petition that He should be put to death! Shades of the heroes and the prophets, who loved this nation and boasted of it and foretold its glorious fate, the hour of destiny has come, and this is the result!

It was an act of national suicide. But was it not more? Was it not the frustration of the purpose and the promise of God? So it certainly appeared to be. Yet He is not mocked. Even through human sin His purpose holds on its way. The Jews brought the Son of God to Pilate's judgment-seat, that both Jew and Gentile might unite in condemning Him; for it was part of the work of the Redeemer to expose human sin, and here was to be exhibited the ne plus ultra of wickedness, as the hand of humanity was lifted up against its Maker. And yet that death was to be the life of humanity; and Jesus, standing between Jew and Gentile, was to unite them in the fellowship of a common salvation. "Oh the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!"


Pilate at once demanded what was the accusation which they brought against the Prisoner.

The reply was a characteristic one, "If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up unto thee." This was as broad a hint as they could give that they desired the governor to waive his right to re-try the case, accepting their trial of it as sufficient, and content himself with the other half of his prerogative—the passing and the execution of the sentence. Sometimes provincial governors did so, either through indolence or out of compliment to the native authorities; and especially in a religious cause, which a foreigner could not be expected to understand, such a compliment might seem a boon which it was not unreasonable to ask.

But Pilate was not in a yielding mood, and retorted, "Take ye Him and judge Him according to your law." This was as much as to say: If I am not to hear the case, then I will neither pass the sentence nor inflict the punishment; if you insist on this being a case for yourselves as ecclesiastics, then keep it to yourselves; but, if you do, you must be content with such a punishment as the law permits you to inflict.

To them this was gall and wormwood, because it was for the life of Christ they were thirsting, and they well knew that imprisonment or beating with rods was as far as they could go. The cold, keen Roman, as proud as themselves, was making them feel the pressure of Rome's foot on their neck, and he enjoyed a malicious pleasure in extorting from them the complaint, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death."

Forced against their will and their expectation to formulate a charge, they began to pour forth many vehement accusations; out of which at length three emerged with some distinctness—first, that He was perverting the nation; second, that He forbade to pay the imperial tribute; and third, that He set Himself up as a king.

It will be observed that they never mentioned the charge on which they had condemned Him themselves. It was for none of these three things that they had condemned Him, but for blasphemy. They knew too well, however, that if they advanced such a charge in this place, the likelihood was that it would be sneered out of court. It will be remembered how a Roman governor, mentioned in the life of St. Paul, dealt with such a charge: "Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you; but, if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. And he drave them from the judgment-seat." [3] And, although of course Pilate could not have dared to exhibit the same cynical disdain for what he would have called Jewish superstition, yet they knew that it was in his heart.

But their inability to bring forward the real charge put them in a false position, the dangers of which they did not escape. They had to extemporise crimes, and they were not scrupulous about it.

Their first charge—that Jesus was perverting the nation[4]—was vague. But what are we to say of the second—that He forbade to pay the imperial tribute? When we remember His reply that very week to the question whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute—"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's"—it looks very like a deliberate falsehood.[5] There was more colour in their third statement—that He said He was Christ a King—for He had at their tribunal solemnly avowed Himself to be the Christ. Yet, in this case, also, they were well aware that to the ear of a Roman the claim that He was a king would convey a different meaning from that conveyed to their ears by the claim to be the Christ. Indeed, at bottom their objection to Him was just that He did not sufficiently claim to be a king in the Roman sense. They were eagerly looking for a king, of splendour and military renown, to break the Roman yoke and make Jerusalem the capital of a worldwide empire; and it was because the spirit and aims of Jesus were alien to such ambitions that they despised and hated Him.

Pilate understood perfectly well with whom he was dealing. He could only be amused with their zeal for the payment of the Roman tribute. One of the Evangelists says, "He knew that for envy they had delivered Him." How far he was already acquainted with the career of Jesus we cannot tell. He had been governor all the time of the movement inaugurated by the Baptist and continued by Christ, and he can hardly have remained in entire ignorance of it. The dream of his wife, which we shall come to soon, seems to prove that Jesus had already been a theme of conversation in the palace; and perhaps the tedium of a visit to Jerusalem may have been relieved for the governor and his wife by the story of the young Enthusiast who was bearding the fanatic priests. Pilate displays, all through, a real interest in Jesus and a genuine respect. This was no doubt chiefly due to what he himself saw of His bearing at his tribunal; but it may also have been partly due to what he had already heard about Him. At all events there is no indication that he took the charges against Jesus seriously. The two first he seems never to have noticed; but the third—that He was setting Himself up as a king, who might be a rival to the emperor—was not such as he could altogether pass by.


Pilate, having heard the accusations, took Jesus inside the palace to investigate them. This he did, no doubt, for the purpose of getting rid of the importunity of His accusers, which was extreme. And Jesus made no scruple, as they had done, about entering the palace. Shall we say that the Jews had rejected Him, and He was turning to the Gentiles—that the wall of partition had now fallen, and that He was trampling over its ruins?

In the silence, then, of this interior hall He and Pilate stood face to face—He in the prisoner's lonely place, Pilate in the place of power. Yet how strangely, as we now look back at the scene, are the places reversed! It is Pilate who is going to be tried—Pilate and Rome, which he represented. All that morning Pilate was being judged and exposed; and ever since he has stood in the pillory of history with the centuries gazing at him.[6] In the old pictures of the Child Christ by the great masters a halo proceeds from the Babe that lights up the surrounding figures, sometimes with dazzling effect. And it is true that on all who approached Christ, when He was in the world, there fell a light in which both the good and the evil in them were revealed. It was a search-light, that penetrated into every corner and exposed every wrinkle. Men were judged as they came near Him. Is it not so still? We never show so entirely what is in us as by the way in which we are affected by Christ. We are judging ourselves and passing sentence on ourselves for eternity by the way in which we deal with Him.

Pilate asked Him, "Art Thou the King of the Jews?" referring to the third charge brought against Him. The reply of Jesus was cautious; it was another question: "Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?" He desired to learn in what sense the question was asked—whether from the standpoint of a Roman or from that of the Jews; because of course His answer would be different according as He was asked whether He was a king as a Roman would understand the word or according as it was understood by the Jews.

But this answer nettled Pilate, perhaps because it assumed that he might have more interest in the case than he cared to confess; and he said angrily, "Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me." If he intended this to sting, the blow did not fail of its mark. Ah, tingling shame and poignant pain! His own nation—His own beloved nation, to which He had devoted His life—had given Him up to the Gentile. He felt a shame for it before the foreigner such as a slave on the block may feel before her purchaser for the father and the family that have sold her into disgrace.

Jesus at once proceeded, however, to answer Pilate's question on both sides, both on the Roman political and then on the Jewish religious side.

First, He answered negatively, "My kingdom is not of this world!" He was no rival of the Roman emperor. If He had been, the first thing He must have done would have been to assemble soldiers about Him for the purpose of freeing the country from the Roman occupation, and the very first duty of these soldiers would have been to defend the person of their king; but it could be proved that at His arrest there had been no fighting on His behalf, and that He had ordered the one follower who had drawn a sword to sheathe it again. It was not a kingdom of force and arms and worldly glory He had in view.

Yet, even in making this denial, Jesus had used the words, "My kingdom." And Pilate broke in, "Art Thou a king then?" "Yes," replied Jesus; "to this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." This was His kingdom—the realm of Truth. It differs widely from that of Caesar. Caesar's empire is over the bodies of men; this is over their hearts. The strength of Caesar's empire is in soldiers, arms, citadels and navies; the strength of this kingdom is in principles, sentiments, ideas. The benefit secured by Caesar to the citizens is external security for their persons and properties; the blessings of Christ's kingdom are peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost. The empire of Caesar, vast as it was, yet was circumscribed; the kingdom of Christ is without limits, and is destined to be established in every land. Caesar's empire, like every other earthly kingdom, had its day and passed out of existence; but the kingdom of Truth shall last for evermore.

It has been remarked that there was something Western rather than Oriental in this sublime saying of Christ. What a noble-minded Jew longed for above all things was righteousness; but what a noble-minded Gentile aspired after was truth. There were some spirits, in that age, even among the heathen, in whom the mention of a kingdom of truth or wisdom would have struck a responsive chord. Jesus was feeling to see whether there was in this man's soul any such longing.

He approached still nearer him when He added the searching remark, "Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice;" for it was a hint that, if he loved the truth, he must believe in Him. Jesus preached to His judge. Just as the prisoner Paul made Felix the judge tremble, and Agrippa the judge cry out, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian," so Jesus, with the instinct of the preacher and the Saviour, was feeling for Pilate's conscience. He who fishes for the souls of men must use many angles; and on this occasion Jesus selected a rare one.

There will always be some who, though common appeals do not touch them, yet respond to this delicate appeal. Is truth a magic word to you? do you thirst for wisdom? There are those to whom the prizes which the majority strive for are as dross. The race for wealth, the pride of life, the distinctions of society—you laugh at them and pity them. But a golden page of a favourite poet, a thought newly minted in the glowing heat of a true thinker's mind, a pregnant word that sets your fancy ranging through eternity, a luminous doctrine that rises on the intellectual horizon like a star,—these are your wealth. You feel keenly the darkness of the world, and are perplexed by a hundred problems. Child and lover of wisdom, do you know the King of Truth? This is He who can satisfy your craving for light and lead you out of the maze of speculation and error.

But is it true, as He says here, that everyone who is of the truth heareth His voice? Is not the world at present full of men and women who are in search of truth, yet pass Christ by? It is a very strong word He uses; it is, "every one who has been born of the truth." Have you actually clambered on Truth's knees, and clung to her neck, and fed at her breast? There are many who seek truth earnestly with the intellect, but do not desire it to rule their conduct or purify their heart. But only those who seek truth with their whole being are her true children; and to these the voice of Christ, when it is discerned, is like the sunrise to the statue of Memnon or as the call of spring to the responsive earth.

Alas! Pilate was no such man. He was incapable of spiritual aspiration; he was of the earth earthy; he sought for nothing which the eye cannot see or the hand handle. To him a kingdom of truth and a king of truth were objects of fairyland or castles in the air. "What is truth?" he asked; but, as he asked, he turned on his heel, and did not wait for an answer. He asked only as a libertine might ask, What is virtue? or a tyrant, What is freedom?

But he was clearly convinced that Jesus was innocent. He judged Him to be an amiable enthusiast, from whom Rome had nothing to fear. So he went out and pronounced His acquittal: "I find in Him no fault at all."

[1] On Pilate there is an essay of extraordinary subtlety and power in Candlish's Scripture Characters.

[2] An eloquent account in Keim (vi., p. 80, English tr.), who gives the authorities: "in part a tyrant's stronghold, and in part a fairy pleasure-house."

[3] Acts xviii. 14-16.

[4] ethnos, not laos: they were speaking to a heathen.

[5] Keim calls it "a very flagrant lie."

[6] "Socrates, quum omnium sapientissime sanctissimeque vixisset, ita in judicio capitis pro se dixit, ut non supplex aut reus, sed magister aut dominus videretur judicum."—CICERO.



Pilate had tried Jesus and found Him innocent; and so he frankly told the members of the Sanhedrim, thereby reversing their sentence. What ought to have followed? Of course Jesus ought to have been released and, if necessary, protected from the feeling of the Jews.

Why was this not what happened? An incident in the life of Pilate, narrated by a secular historian, may best explain. Some years before the trial of Jesus, Pilate, newly settled in the position of governor of Judaea, resolved to remove the headquarters of the Roman army from Caesarea to Jerusalem; and the soldiers entered the Holy City with their standards, each of which bore the image of the emperor. To the Jewish mind these images were idolatrous, and their presence in Jerusalem was looked upon as a gross insult and desecration. The foremost men of the city poured down to Caesarea, where Pilate was staying, and besought him to remove them. He refused, and for five days the discussion went on. At length he was so irritated that he ordered them to be surrounded by soldiers, and threatened to have them put to death unless they became silent and dispersed. They, however, in no way dismayed, threw themselves on the ground and laid bare their necks, crying that they would rather die than have their city defiled. And the upshot was that Pilate had to yield, and the army was withdrawn from Jerusalem.[1]

Such was the governor, and such were the people with whom he had to deal. He was no match for them, when their hearts were set on anything and their religious prejudices roused. In the present case they did with him exactly as they had done on that early occasion. He declared Jesus innocent, and thereupon the trial ought to have been at an end. But they raised an angry clamour—"they were the more fierce," says St. Luke—and began to pour out new accusations against the Prisoner.

Pilate had not nerve enough to resist. He weakly turned to Jesus Himself, asking, "Hearest Thou not what these witness against Thee?" But Jesus "answered to him never a word." He would not, by a single syllable, give sanction to any prolongation of the proceedings: "insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly." Flustered and irresolute himself, he could not comprehend this majestic composure. The stake of Jesus in the proceedings was nothing less than His life; yet He was the only calm person in the whole assemblage.

Suddenly, however, amidst the confusion a way of escape from his embarrassing situation seemed to open to Pilate. They were crying, "He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place." The mention of Galilee was intended to excite prejudice against Jesus, because Galilee was noted as a hotbed of insurrection. But it set agoing a different train of thought in the mind of Pilate, who asked anxiously if He was a Galilean. It had flashed upon him that Herod, the ruler of Galilee, was in the city at the time, having come for the Passover celebration; and, as it was not an unusual procedure in Roman law to transfer a prisoner from the territory where he had been arrested to his place of origin or of domicile, it seemed to him a happy inspiration to send Jesus to be tried by the ruler of the province to which He belonged, and so get rid altogether of the case.[2] He acted at once on this idea; and, under the escort of Pilate's soldiers, Jesus and His accusers were sent away to the ancient palace of the Maccabees, in which Herod used to reside on his visits to the Holy City.

Thus was Jesus, on this day of shame, tossed, like a ball, from hand to hand—from Annas to Caiaphas, from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, with more to follow; and these weary marches[3] in chains and in the custody of the officers of justice, with His persecutors about Him, are not to be forgotten in the catalogue of His sufferings.


There are several Herods mentioned in the New Testament, and it must be made clear which of them this was.

The first of them was he who slew the babes of Bethlehem, when the infant Saviour was carried away to Egypt. He was called Herod the Great, and reigned over the whole country, though only by permission of the Romans. At his death his dominions were divided among his sons by the foreigner, who thus more effectually brought the country under control; for the smaller the size of subject states the more absolute is the power of the suzerain. Judaea was given to Archelaus; but it was soon taken from him, to be administered by the Romans themselves through their procurators, of whom Pilate was one. Galilee and Peraea were given to another son, Antipas; and a region more to the north to a third, Philip. Our present Herod is Antipas.

He was a man of some ability and at the outset of his career gave promise of ruling well. Like his father, he had a passion for architecture, and among his achievements in this line was the building of the city of Tiberias, well known in connection with modern missions. But he took a step which proved fatal when he entered into an intrigue with Herodias, the wife of his own brother Philip. She left her husband to come to him, and he sent away his own wife, the daughter of Aretas, the king of Arabia Petraea. Herodias was a much stronger character than he; and she remained at his side through life as his evil genius. Better aspirations were not, however, wholly extinguished in him even by this fall. When the Baptist began to fire the country, he took an interest in his preaching, and invited him to the palace, where he heard him gladly, till John said, "It is not lawful for thee to have her." For this the great preacher was cast into prison; but even then Herod frequently sent for him. Manifestly he was under religious impression. He admired the character and the teaching of John. It is said "he did many things." Only he could not and would not do the one thing needful: Herodias still retained her place. Naturally she feared and hated the man of God, who was seeking to remove her; and she plotted against him with implacable malignity. She was only too successful, making use of her own daughter—not Antipas', but her first husband's—for her purpose. On the king's birthday Salome danced before Herod and so intoxicated him with her skill and beauty, that, heated and overcome, he promised—the promise showing the man—to give her whatever she might ask, even to the half of his kingdom; and when the young witch, well drilled by her mother in the craft of hell, asked the head of the man of God, she was not refused.

This awful crime filled his subjects with horror, and when, soon afterwards, King Aretas, the father of his discarded wife, invaded the country, to revenge his daughter's wrong, and inflicted on him an ignominious defeat, this reverse was popularly regarded as a divine punishment for what he had done. His own mind was haunted by the spectres of remorse, as we learn from the fact that, when he heard of the preaching of Jesus, his first thought was that this was John the Baptist risen from the dead. Indeed, from this point he seems to have rapidly deteriorated. Feeling the aversion of the minds of his subjects, he turned more and more to foreign customs. His court became distinguished for Roman imitations and affectations. The purveyors of pleasure, who in that age hawked their wares from one petty court to another—singers, dancers, jugglers and the like—were welcome at Tiberias. The fibre of his character was more and more relaxed, till it became a mere mass of pulp, ready to receive every impression but able to retain none. His annual visits to Jerusalem even, at Passover time, were inspired less by devotion than by the hope of amusement. In so large a concourse there would at any rate be acquaintances to see and news to hear; and who could tell what excitement might turn up?


His reception of Jesus was thoroughly characteristic. Had he had the conscience even of a bad man, he might have been abashed to see the Baptist's Friend. Once he had been moved with terror at the mere rumour of Jesus; but that was all past; these emotions had been wiped out by newer ones and forgotten. He was "exceeding glad" to see Him. First, it was an excitement; and this was something for such a man. Then, it was a compliment from the Roman; indeed, we are told that Pilate and he had aforetime been at enmity, but by this attention were made friends again. His delight, however, arose chiefly from the hope that he might see Jesus working a miracle. For two or three years his own dominions had been ringing with the fame of the Miracle-worker, but Herod had never seen Him. Now was his chance; and no doubt entered his mind that Jesus would gratify his curiosity, or could count it anything but an honour to get the opportunity of displaying His skill.

Such was Herod's estimate of Christ. He put Him on the level of a new dancer or singer; he looked on His miracles as a species of conjuring or magic; and he expected from Him the same entertainment as he might have obtained from any wandering professor of magical arts.

At once he addressed Him in the friendliest manner and questioned Him in many words. Apparently he quite forgot the purpose for which Pilate had sent Him. He did not even wait for any replies, but went rambling on. He had thought much about religion, and he wished Jesus to know it. He had theories to ventilate, puzzles to propound, remarks to make. A man who has no religion may yet have a great deal to say about religion; and there are people who like far better to hear themselves talking than to listen to any speaker, however wise. No mouth is more voluble than that of a characterless man of feeling.


Herod at last exhausted himself, and then he waited for Christ to speak. But Jesus uttered not a word. The silence lasted till the pause grew awkward and painful, and till Herod grew red and angry; but Jesus would not break it with a single syllable.

For one thing, the entire proceedings were irrelevant. Jesus had been sent to Herod to be tried; but this had never been touched upon. Had Jesus, indeed, desired to deliver Himself at all hazards, this was a rare opportunity; because, if He had yielded to Herod's wishes and wrought a miracle for his gratification, no doubt He would have been acquitted and sent back loaded with gifts. But we cannot believe that such an expedient was even a temptation to Him. Never had He wrought a miracle for His own behoof, and it is inconceivable that He should have stooped to offer any justification of the estimate of Himself which this man had formed. Jesus was Herod's subject; but it was impossible for Him to look upon him with respect. How could He help feeling disdain for one who thought of Himself so basely and treated this great crisis so frivolously? To one who knew Herod's history, how loathsome must it have been to hear religious talk from his lips! There was no manliness or earnestness in the man. Religion was a mere diversion to him.

To such Christ will always be silent. Herod is the representative of those for whom there is no seriousness in life, but who live only for pleasure. There are many such. Not only has religion, in any high and serious sense, no attraction for them, but they dislike everything like deep thought or earnest work in any sphere. As soon as they are released from the claims of business, they rush off to be excited and amused; and the one thing they dread is solitude, in which they might have to face themselves. In certain classes of society, where work is not necessary to obtain a livelihood, this spirit is the predominant one: life is all a scene of gaiety; one amusement follows another; and the utmost care is taken to avoid any intervals where reflection might come in.

Religion itself may be dragged into this circle of dissipation. It is possible to go to church with substantially the same object with which one goes to a place of amusement—in the hope of being excited, of having the feelings stirred and the aesthetic sense gratified or, at the least, consuming an hour which might otherwise lie heavy on the hands. With shame be it said, there are churches enough and preachers enough ready to meet this state of mind half-way. With the fireworks of rhetoric or the witchery of music or the pomp of ritual the performance is seasoned up to the due pitch; and the audience depart with precisely the same kind of feeling with which they might leave a concert or a theatre. Very likely it is accounted a great success; but Christ has not spoken: He is resolutely mute to those who follow religion in this spirit.

Sometimes the same spirit takes another direction; it becomes speculative and sceptical and, like Herod, "questions in many words." When I have heard some people propounding religious difficulties, the answer which has risen to my lips has been, Why should you be able to believe in Christ? what have you ever done to render yourselves worthy of such a privilege? you are thinking of faith as a compliment to be paid to Christ; in reality the power to believe in Him and His words is a great privilege and honour, that requires to be purchased with thought, humility and self-denial.

We do not owe an answer to the religious objections of everyone. Religion is, indeed, a subject on which everyone takes the liberty of speaking; the most unholy and evil-living talk and write of it nothing doubting; but in reality it is a subject on which very few are entitled to be heard. We may know beforehand, from their lives, what the opinions of many must be about it; and we know what their opinions are worth.

It may be thought that Jesus ought to have spoken to Herod—that He missed an opportunity. Ought He not to have appealed to his conscience and attempted to rouse him to a sense of his sin? To this I answer that His silence was itself this appeal. Had there been a spark of conscience left in Herod, those Eyes looking him through and through, and that divine dignity measuring and weighing him, would have caused his sins to rise up out of the grave and overwhelm him. Jesus was silent, that the voice of the dead Baptist might be heard.

If we understood it, the silence of Christ is the most eloquent of all appeals. Can you remember when you used to hear Him—when the words of the Book and the preacher used to move you in church, when the singing awoke aspiration, when the Sabbath was holy ground, when the Spirit of God strove with you? And is that all passed of passing away? Does Christ speak no more? If a man is lying ill, and perceives day by day everything about him becoming silent—his wife avoiding speech, visitors sinking their voices to a whisper, footsteps falling and doors shutting noiselessly—he knows that his illness is becoming critical. When the traveller, battling with the snow-storm, sinks down at last to rest, he feels cold and painful and miserable; but, if there steals over him a soft, sweet sense of slumber and silence, then is the moment to rouse himself and fight off his peace, if he is ever to stir again. There is such a spiritual insensibility. It means that the Spirit is ceasing to strive, and Christ to call. If it is creeping over you, it is time to be anxious; for it is for your life.

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