And now the impatient leaders detect the first streaks of gray coming up in the east. The national council can now properly meet. Like their two chiefs, these men are prompt. The whips had been out over the city drumming up the members for this extraordinary session. There seems to have been a full attendance. Jesus, still bound, is led through the streets; followed by the mixed rabble, to the meeting hall, probably in the neighborhood of the temple. He is brought in and faces these men. How some of those eyes must have gloated out their green leering! Here are the men He had not hesitated to denounce openly with the severest invective ever spoken.
Some time is spent in consultation. The difficulty here is to fix upon a charge upon which they can themselves agree, and which will also be sufficient for the desired action by the Roman governor. It was a tough task. They fail in it. These men divided into groups that were ever at swords' points. There were utter opposites in beliefs and policies. But their common hate of Jesus rises for the time above their hatred for each other. The charge must appeal to Pilate, for only he has power of capital punishment, and nothing but Jesus' blood will quench their thirst.
Their consultation results in another attempt to question Jesus in the hope of getting some word that can be used. The president goes back to his former question, |If Thou art the Christ, tell us.| Jesus reminds them of the lack of sincerity in their questionings. They would not believe Him, nor answer His questions. Then He repeats the solemn words spoken in the night session, |From henceforth shall the Son of Man be seated at the right hand of the power of God.| Eagerly they all blurt out, |Art Thou then the Son of God?| Back comes the quiet, steady reply, |Ye say that I am,| equal to a strong yes. Instantly they decide fully and formally upon His condemnation. So closes the third phase of the Jewish examination. The death sentence is fixed upon. The thing has been formally fixed up. The ground is now cleared for taking Him to Pilate for His death sentence.
It is still early morning when Jesus is taken to Pilate. It was an imposing procession of the leading men of the nation, headed very likely by Caiaphas, that now led Jesus across the city, through its narrow streets, up to the palace of the Roman governor. Jesus is conducted into Pilate's hall of judgment within, but, with their scrupulous regard for the letter of their law, these principals would not enter his palace on that day, but remained without. They seem to be expecting Pilate to send the prisoner back at once with their death sentence endorsed.
To their surprise and disgust,[A] Pilate comes out himself and wants to know the charge against the prisoner. They are not prepared for this. It is their weak point, and has been from the first. Their bold, sullen answer evades the question, while insisting on what they want, |If He were not a criminal we would not have brought Him to thee.| They didn't want his opinion, but his power, his consent to their plot. But Pilate doesn't propose to be used as such a convenience. With scorn he tells them that if they propose to judge the case they may. This wrings from them the humiliating reminder that the power of capital punishment is withheld from them by their Roman rulers, and nothing less will satisfy them here. Then they begin a series of verbal charges. They are all of a political nature, for only such would this Roman recognize. This man had been perverting the nation, forbidding tribute to Caesar and calling Himself a King.
It takes no keenness for Pilate to see the hollowness of this sudden loyalty to Caesar. He returns to the beautiful marble judgment hall, and has Jesus brought to him again. He looks into Jesus' face. He is keen enough to see that here is no political schemer. At most probably a religious enthusiast, or reformer, or something as harmless from his standpoint. |Art Thou the King of the Jews?| he asks. Jesus' answer suggests that there was a kindliness in that face. If there be a desire for truth here He will satisfy it. This political charge had been made outside while He was within. |Do you really want to know about Me, or are you merely repeating something you have heard?| He asks, with a gentle earnestness.
But Pilate at once repudiates any personal interest. |Am I a Jew?| he asks, with plain contempt on that word. |Thine own people are accusing thee. What hast Thou done?| Then comes that great answer, |My kingdom is not of this world, if so I would be resisting these leaders and these present circumstances would all be different. But my kingdom is not of your sort or theirs.| Again there likely came a bit of softening and curious interest in Pilate's face, as he asks, |Art Thou really a King then?| Jesus replies, |To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.| Pilate wonders what this has to do with being a king. With a weary, impatient contempt, he says, |Truth? What is that?| The accused seems to be an enthusiast, a dreamer, yet withal there certainly was a fine nobility about Him. Certainly He was quite harmless politically.
Leaving Him there, again he goes to the leaders waiting impatiently outside. To their utter astonishment and rage he says, |I find no fault in this man.| It is the judgment of a keen, critical, worldly Roman; an acquittal, the first acquittal. The waiting crowd bursts out at once in a hot, fanatical tumult of shouted protests. Is all their sleepless planning to be disturbed by this Roman heathen? The prisoner was constantly stirring up the people all through Judea and Galilee. He was a dangerous man. Looking and listening, with his contempt for them plainly in his face, and yet a dread of their wild fanaticism in his heart, Pilate's ear catches that word Galilee. |Is the man a Galilean?| |Yes.| Well, here's an easy way of getting rid of the troublesome matter. Herod, the ruler of Galilee, was in the city at his palace, come to attend the festival. It would be a bit of courtesy that he might appreciate to refer the case to him, and so it would be off his own hands. And so the order is given.