(Inspired by John 18: 28-40)
Things were going Caiaphas’s way, and he was quite pleased about it. He and his cronies had arrested Jesus, the controversial teacher from Nazareth, and had managed to finagle a death sentence for Him. Now only one step remained to complete their plan to kill Jesus, and that was to convince Pilate, the Roman governor, to carry out the sentence.
When the detail of Roman soldiers sent to assist the high priest’s guards with the arrest arrived at the military barracks, they marched straight in with the prisoner. All of the Jewish leaders stopped at the gate.
This took place so early in the morning that the servants had to wake Pilate up. He was still hurriedly tugging on his robe when he rushed into the large hall where the soldiers waited with Jesus.
The governor took a moment to study the prisoner. “So this is the fellow the chief priests have been so upset over,” Pilate finally said, scanning the prisoner up and down. “He’s not much to look at. Where are the accusers?”
Standing at attention, the soldier in charge of the troop reported, “They’re outside, your excellency. They wouldn’t come in…something about it being a holy day and not wanting to be made unclean…by us.”
“Yes, of course, it’s their Passover,” Pilate snapped irritably. “Well, then I suppose I’ll have to go to them.”
Pilate finished straightening his robe and stamped purposefully out to confront the religious leaders. When he arrived, he completely dispensed with any pleasantries. “Alright, let’s get on with it. What are your charges against this man?”
“Charges?” Caiaphas snapped. “What difference does it make? We tried him. He’s guilty, so we brought him to you! That’s what your law says we have to do!”
Pilate never liked Caiaphas, and he especially didn’t want to have to deal with his insults this early in the morning.
“This is obviously a Jewish law thing, so why pull me into it?” the governor returned, trying to control his anger. “Just handle it yourselves. Judge him by your own laws.” As Pilate said this, he started to walk away, but Caiaphas stopped him.
“We would handle it, but you won’t let Jews put anyone to death.”
Pilate suddenly stopped and turned to face the chief priest. “Death?” Pilate questioned curiously. “You want to kill this man? Why?”
This question caught the Jews off guard, and they struggled for an answer that would justify condemning Jesus. Finally Caiaphas said, “He said he was a king.”
Pilate knew he was being set up, but he and Caiaphas had done this dance several times before, and Pilate knew he had to play it out. Spinning on his heel, he marched back into the barracks.
The governor sat in his judgment hall and commanded that Jesus to be brought in. Once the prisoner stood before him, Pilate decided to try intimidation first. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he demanded harshly.
Jesus lifted His head until He was looking straight into the eyes of the Roman magistrate. “Are you asking this for yourself, or because others have said this about Me?”
Pilate was stunned at the man’s boldness. “AM I A JEW?” he snapped back. “WHY SHOULD I EVEN CARE?
“Look, you’re the one on trial here,” Pilate began again. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. They want me to have you put to death, so what have you done?”
“My kingdom is real, but it is not something produced by this world. It comes from another place…a higher place.”
“You’re telling me that your kingdom is not a kingdom of the world?” Pilate questioned with a confused look.
“It is clear that My kingdom does not come from this world,” Jesus answered, “because if it was a worldly kingdom, My followers would be fighting the Jews and Romans right now to free Me. If My kingdom were a worldly kingdom, everyone who follows Me would fight anyone who tries to keep it from taking its place in the world. That’s not happening because all who have listened to Me know that My kingdom is not of this world.”
“But you are a king, right?” the governor asked again.
“You are right,” Jesus returned. “I am a king.”
“So if you’re not a king of this world,” the Roman questioned, “then why are you even here? What is this all about?”
“Let me tell you why I have come into the world,” the Teacher explained. “I have come as a witness.”
“A witness? A witness of what?”
“I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth,” Jesus announced confidently. “Everyone fails at finding the best and highest life because they don’t know the truth, and when the truth does come to them, they can’t even recognize it. That’s why I was born…to do whatever is necessary to be the witness to the truth that everyone needs. Some won’t accept My witness. But everyone who longs for and is searching for the truth will listen to Me.”
“Truth!” Pilate scoffed. “You would never make it in the politics of THIS world, King of the Jews! To get where I am, I had to abandon truth years ago. Truth will get you killed! What is truth? It is nothing to me!”
After making this declaration, Pilate left Jesus under guard and, signaling for the captain of the guard to come with him, walked out to confront the Jews.
“What do you think about all this, Excellency?” the captain asked as they walked.
“That Jewish teacher is kind of a strange duck, but he’s not guilty of anything deserving death,” the governor spoke his thoughts. “Apparently he’s popular enough with the people that the chief priests are jealous and want to use me to get rid of him, but I think I’ve figured out a way to save this guy.”
“The rabbi is just another Jew,” the captain growled back. “Why are you interested in saving him?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s innocent,” Pilate said offhandedly. “But to me, it’s not so much the teacher as it is turning the tables on that snake Caiaphas. Now, I want you to have the prisoner Jesus Barabbas brought out to me!”
“Barabbas!” the captain exclaimed. “That man is dangerous, Excellency! He’s an absolute animal!”
“I know,” Pilate chuckled. “Use as many guards as you need to control him, but bring him out to me. I want Caiaphas and the rest of the people to get a good look at him.”
As the captain hurried to fulfil his orders, the Roman governor signaled to the guards in the hall to bring the Nazarene to him as well. Marching out to those waiting on him, the Roman didn’t stop until he stood insultingly close to the Jewish delegation. Irritated by the gentile’s nearness, the chief priests hurriedly stepped back closer to the crowd of Jewish people, who were gathering quickly to see what was happening.
“I find no guilt in this man,” Pilate declared authoritatively.
“WHAT?” Caiaphas and the others stammered their dismay.
Before they could protest, Pilate played his hand. Speaking loudly so that all of the gathering crowd could hear, he said, “You have a custom that I release a prisoner for you at the Passover.”
Looking back over his shoulder, the governor was pleased to see Jesus being pushed out to join them. Turning the other way, Pilate saw a larger contingent of guards with spears leveled at the chained murderer and thief Barabbas. The comparison between the two men was startling and couldn’t have pleased Pilate more. The Nazarene stood quietly and submissively. Barabbas, on the other hand, yanked on the chains, fought with the guards, and cursed incessantly.
When the smiling Roman governor turned toward the chief priests, he saw Caiaphas urgently conferring with his cronies. He’s figured it out, Pilate said to himself, still smiling, but it’s too late!
Just then several of the Jewish elders with Caiaphas turned and raced through the crowd. Now it was the high priest who had the smug smile on his face.
“So who shall I release to you,” Pilate called loudly, “Jesus called the King of the Jews or Jesus Barabbas?”
“NOT THIS MAN,” Caiaphas shouted pointing to the Nazarene, “BUT BARABBAS!”
This cry was quickly taken up by the other Jewish leaders standing with the chief priest. Pilate had expected that, but what he didn’t expect was to hear the many voices in the crowd joining in the cry for the murderer’s release.
By Alan W. Harris