The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a King.”
So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23: 1-4 NIV).
Truth on Trial
The fortress, Antonia, rose like a bird of prey hovering over the Temple, a constant reminder to the people of their slavery to the Roman eagle. It was a Hasmonean castle used by Herod the Great until he built his own grandiose dwelling on the West Hill dominating the entire city. The Antonia was useful for its proximity to the Temple grounds where trouble was most likely to break out. During festivals, like the Passover, a cohort of Roman soldiers would be garrisoned at the fortress as a deterrent to the more volatile and violent element of the Jewish population. Not that it helped very much. Lately Pontius Pilate, governor and procurator of Judea, had occupied it.
Pontius Pilate was not a politician, Gabriel thought ruefully to himself. He was of equestrian rather than senatorial rank, a member of the lower nobility in the Roman hierarchy. He was neither wealthy nor poor, neither powerful nor lacking in political clout. He had married well, his wife being distantly related to the house of Tiberius, the emperor in Rome. Furthermore, Pilate owed his appointment as prefect of Judea to Sejanus, the right hand of Tiberius.
Tiberius Ceasar was old and almost senile by the time Pilate was appointed to govern Judea under the guidance of the governor of Syria. He was a suspicious old man, paranoid about plots and assassination attempts against him and his family.
And he was right, thought Gabriel, aware of the evil intricacies of Roman power. Sejanus was in control of the day to day administration of the government and sought to consolidate his power against Tiberius but was discovered and dealt with decisively. Because of his connection with Sejanus, Pilate was in an uncomfortable position and unsure of his standing with Tiberius. But he was no politician and not considered dangerous to Rome.
Gabriel knew this man. He had been watching him for almost seven years already. It was obvious that Satan had sent him to Judea to keep an eye on things, whether Pilate knew it or not. He could be controlled. Pontius Pilate was a mean and vindictive man who governed by brute force and intimidation. He had under his direct control one hundred and twenty horsemen and five cohorts of infantry, almost five thousand men in total. It was enough to show a strong Roman presence and keep the peace unless real trouble erupted. On one or two occasions, the Roman legions under the control of the governor of Syria, had had to intervene to put down a popular uprising. But it was costly and time-consuming and Pilate’s’ job was to make sure it wouldn’t be necessary.
Still, Pilate was no politician.
He would rule Judea for only ten years, Gabriel thought to himself, and would get into trouble from the start. Wanting to intimidate the Jews with a show of strength, he had marched into the city with the Roman banners unfurled, the emperor’s image boldly displayed. It didn’t matter that former procurators had avoided this practice in Yerushalayim, the Holy City, so as not to antagonize the Jews who saw it as a violation of the commandment against images. After six days of stubborn resistance Pilate experienced his first of many frustrating defeats. Even though he threatened the death penalty to anyone who opposed him, the Jews still would not stop their active resistance on the streets.
It was a test of wills, a power encounter, a test of diplomacy – at which Pilate failed miserably. He simply did not understand this Jewish obstinacy, this insistence on proper decorum and respect for the Holy City, this paranoia about the observance of every nuance of their ritual and law. And so his attempt at intimidation backfired and gave the Jewish leaders their first taste of victory over the new Roman prefect. Pilate took down the banners and standards and brought them back to Caesarea where he had his permanent residence.
No, Pilate was no politician.
Spiritually there was not much anyone could do, or wanted to do about Pilate. He had arrived as planned but without any special orders for how to handle him.
Stick to the plan, Tundrac thought to himself. Part of the overall strategy for Palestine was to keep a constant friction between the Romans and the Jews. After all, the possibility of rebellion and blood and war was to everyone’s benefit. Tundrac didn’t like the intrusion of another procurator that he would have to train all over again but at least he found Pilate to be pliable. His temper and innate meanness made him easy to control. And the Jews were a stupid, stubborn, backwater people from a Roman point of view. That was something that Tundrac could use in Pilate to develop a deep seated bitterness and anger toward the Jews.
The relationship was a stormy one but it would still take a few years to develop things to the point of usefulness. Just in case.
Pilate was used to handling power but in Judea he met his match. He encountered a religious preoccupation and stubbornness that mystified and angered him. As the procurator he had the sole power over life and death. He was the one who named the High Priest from year to year and he controlled the temple and its funds. He even controlled the use of the holy vestments of the High Priest, needed during holy days and festivals.
Certainly he had created a working relationship with Caiaphas, who would remain as High Priest for the entire time Pilate was in Palestine. Certainly he learned to work with the Sanhedrin rather than against them, but it took time and numerous threats from both sides. His own blunders and atrocities were ultimately his downfall. He was a cruel man, who used his power crudely and without much effect. History would paint him a poor ruler and accuses him of robbery, murder and inhumanity.Not that these things were that rare in the Roman occupied provinces, thought Gabriel.
When an aqueduct needed to be built to bring fresh water to Yerushalayim, Pilate decided to use the Temple funds and riots broke out, people were killed and, of course, word got back to the governor in Syria and even Rome.
When he wanted to refurbish the palace of Herod in Yerushalayim where he would stay when he was in Yerushalayim, he did not ask for advice before placing golden roman shields with their inscriptions of adoration and loyalty to Ceasar in a prominent place and he was forced by political pressure to remove them to his home in Caesarea.
When a popular armed uprising among the Samaritans occurred, rather than trying to understand the religious undercurrents and diffusing the situation, Pilate saw it as an opportunity to make a show of strength. He put down the uprising savagely and was reported to the governor in Syria, who finally decided to have him sent to Rome to answer for his conduct.
No, Pilate was no politician, thought Gabriel, shaking his head, and yet he will be remembered throughout history for his infamous role as the one who had Jesus Christ executed. It was during this last stage of his stay in Judea, anticipating an unfavorable reaction from Syria and Rome, ill at ease with the Jewish authorities and unsure of his future that Pilate would meet Jesus. A more subdued Pilate, a bit more willing to see justice done, a bit more open to the truth, and yet wary of the power of the Sanhedrin to appeal to Rome and make his situation even more difficult.
Gabriel wondered whether this meeting between the two rulers, one human and one divine, would make any eternal difference for Pilate. Gabriel knew a message would be sent to his wife, to warn him of the peril and Jesus himself would warn him and give him a choice to make.
His master was always full of grace, even to those who would mistreat him, Gabriel knew, but he also respected their choices. Grimly Gabriel watched as the passion of his Lord unfolded below him, as the chief priests and elders, together with Jesus and the Temple Guards arrive at the fortress of Antonia.
It was now morning, and Pilate was expecting them.
It was the custom for a Roman official to start his working day before sunup and so it was with Pilate. But, in truth, he had been waiting for the delegation to arrive. He had already received the report from his Tribunal regarding the arrest in the garden late the previous night and had pondered deeply the meaning of the healing that the Tribune had witnessed. His skepticism wanted to dismiss it out of hand, but there were other similar reports about this man and he was looking forward to meeting Jesus in person. Not that he had much interest in Jewish religious issues, but the promise of some miraculous demonstration had some excitement, if it were true!
In any event, he had arranged with Caiaphas to deal with Jesus this morning and so the delegation was not unexpected. Even so he was irritated to learn that the chief priests and elders would not enter the Praetorium because they did not want to be defiled. At first Pilate’s anger flared dangerously at the insult to Roman power and strength. Who, exactly, was in charge in this accursed country!? he asked himself angrily. But then again, it was the Passover, he was a Gentile and the religious rulers had to look good for the people. There was no point in making an issue out of it. Pilate rose and went outside into the courtyard to meet with them.
His first question took them by surprise. “What charge do you bring against this man?” he asked roughly without any preamble. If they wanted to insult him by forcing him to deal with them in the open air instead of seated in his audience chamber like civilized people, he would give them the same in return.
Flustered and angry, they replied, “If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.”
Obviously, they had had their little trial and found the man guilty. They were expecting to get a quick judgment and deal with the problem straight away. They wanted to get back to the many preparations and ceremonies that still made up the seven days of the Passover celebration. In addition, there was the Shabbat to think about.
How do they keep all the rules and rituals straight? But he was not planning to give them what they wanted. He was tired of his authority as the representative of Rome and of Ceasar being treated so lightly. If it was a religious affair, why didn’t they lock him up for the duration of the festivities and then either let him go or flog him, as they wished?
He said to them, “Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.” He knew that they had already done that last night and wanted Jesus publicly and swiftly executed but they had to ask for his consent.
It galled them to know that he knew what they were trying to do and was flaunting his authority in their faces but still they gave the expected reply, “we are not allowed to put a man to death.”
For the first time, Pilate looked directly at Jesus. He had noticed him before, standing a little to one side, held tightly by the Temple Guards even though he was bound. He seemed to sway a little from fatigue and his nose was bloody. Well, they already had some fun with this one, thought Pilate.
Jesus did not look at him but merely stared at the ground as if his turn had not yet come. With a sharp look at the Tribune, Pilate indicated with his head that Jesus was to be brought inside to his chambers and his soldiers took charge of Jesus immediately and marched off. Jesus doesn’t care if he’s defiled, thought Pilate, he’s probably wondering if he will survive Passover not participate in it. The corner of his mouth turned up in a sardonic smile at the thought.
Finally, he got a written statement of accusation from the chief priests and elders and told them to wait as he followed Jesus into the castle. Pilate read the document quickly. They had begun their accusation by saying, “We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar and claiming to be Christ, a king.” It was obviously, and necessarily, a political charge.
But he was determined to interrogate Jesus inside where he was much more comfortable. When he was ready, he called Jesus to him. Jesus didn’t look like a brigand, or an insurrectionist. He looked like a rabbi, a teacher. And the rumors said that he taught well, and put the Jewish authorities in a bad light, revealing their hypocrisy and greed. He was beginning to like Jesus already. He got right to the point, and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus looked up at him and Pilate was amazed at the serenity and peace in his eyes. They were eyes that held compassion for him and Pilate reacted strongly at the revelation. Who is this man? Jesus did not answer him for a long moment and then asked him a question in return, “Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?”
Pilate knew what he was asking and was incredulous. Why would he be personally interested in Jesus? What did he care if he was the King of the Jews? It had nothing to do with him, or did it? “Am I a Jew?” he retorted, as if to say what do I care about you and your claims to royalty.
All Pilate really knew about this man was from the rumors and comments of the people that came to his ears, and from the chief priests and elders of the people. Otherwise, he didn’t care what the Jews were up to.
He began his questioning again. “It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?”
Jesus seemed to contemplate his words with a sad acceptance of their truth, but a sadness for them not for himself. Pilate marveled at the man. He knew that the charges against this man were flimsy and not to be taken seriously. He knew that the Sanhedrin was jealous of his power over the people and a little scared of him – though probably not scared enough, thought Pilate. They were reacting like a pack of rabid dogs, turning on the one who was different, the one who stood against them, and tearing him to pieces. It was not justice they wanted, Pilate knew, but revenge.
Jesus was looking at him as if he could read his every thought, and smiling somewhat crookedly, his face still sore from the beating he received the night before, he explained patiently to Pilate, “Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.”
Pilate noticed that Jesus had said the Jews, not the Romans. But Jesus was Jewish. Was this an internal fight, a potential civil war among the Jews. No, Jesus had made it clear that his kingdom was not of the world.
Not of the world? the words hit him hard and he looked sharply at Jesus again. What did it mean? Pilate was not used to all this intrigue and subtlety, but he found this man Jesus to be, he hesitated, interesting. That was the word. Maybe he was a religious fanatic that lived in a mystical world of kings and priests that had no relationship with the real world of Roman occupation? Pilate was no great thinker. He was a great believer in the Roman spirit of practical worldly endeavors. Rome was his world, and the emperor his god. Power was what mattered in the real world.
“So you are a king then?” Pilate said, a bit amused.
Jesus looked directly at him – not like a mystic at all, thought Pilate – and said “It is you who say it.” As if to say, it is for you to believe your own confession.
Then, as if to give Pilate one more clue, one more warning, Jesus said clearly, “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”
The lines were now drawn, the choice made clear. Jesus could do no more for Pilate than what he had done. Pilate knew that there was more at stake then mere political expediency. He knew that Jesus was something more than what he had been led to believe. He may or may not believe that he was a king, but he knew that Jesus was innocent. Now it was a question of truth, of justice, of doing what was right. It was the age-old choice of obedience to the truth, or deciding for oneself what was good or bad, what was convenient, what was expedient. And now Pilate, too, would have to decide.
But life had taught him to be cynical and he responded a bit bitterly, “Truth? What is that?”
But Jesus would say no more.
Pilate tried a few other questions, hoping that Jesus might do something interesting or perhaps make his choice easier but Jesus was silent.
Finally, exasperated, Pilate said to him, “Have you no reply at all? See how many accusations they are bringing against you.”
But to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply. He would not reply to the charges. The only reason he had spoken at all was to give Pilate an opportunity to understand the choice he had been given.
In truth, Pilate felt that he was on trial and he didn’t like the feeling at all. He shrugged as if to say that he had tried and done his best and got up to leave. Still, as he went outside to the Jews, he decided to try another tactic.
Tundrac was pleased but cautious. He had been given the responsibility to orchestrate the Roman trial before Pilate. He had had seven years already to study his man and to find his weaknesses and take measure of his strengths, to develop a plan of temptation and influence over his life and character and desires. Pilate had already been well on his way to depravity before coming to Judea, but still Tundrac enjoyed his work. Pilate was a vicious and bitter man and, as a Roman, very practical when it came to non-Roman citizens. Flog them and crucify them was Pilate’s philosophy.
Yesss! Tundrac growled to himself, slobbering slightly in his excitement, thinking of Jesus.
The orgy of anger and hate toward Jesus the night before had done little more than ignite a voracious hunger for more. Together with Slimfroth, he had entered Caiaphas, in a moment of rage and had slapped the Son of the Living God in the face. The incredible sense of power it gave him nearly sent him choking to the floor with the lust for more. For Slimfroth it was the opportunity to spit in that Holy face that inspired him to great, slithering delight.
No doubt the Dark One had heard what had happened while he was dealing with Peter and Judas, but he had so far made no comment. Yet the word was out, and the demons were gathering. There were bitter fights, and backbiting and angry, jealous howling as the story of the orgy of hate spread throughout the ranks. It was only the presence of the Dark One himself, brooding and silent, that kept the evil army in check.
Lucifer was worried, but exultant at the same time. It was the biggest gamble of his existence but everything fit, it all made sense to him. Or at least it did last night! Now, in the bright dawn of day, the doubts returned to assail him and he wondered at himself and the feelings he found within himself.
To experience the dark anguish and thrill of temptation once again, was a joy he did not believe he would ever taste again. Of course, the dark arrows of doubt would come in the light of day. How many times had he been the one to shoot those arrows? How many times had he been the tempter?
But now, who was tempting him? That was the question that gnawed at his bowels, like a snake bite spreading its poison from within.
But he understood the temptation.
He was, after all, the Master at this game. He understood that Jesus would only be in his power for three days, that he had only three days to destroy the church, maybe a little longer. He understood that Jesus was going to rise again, although what that would accomplish, he still didn’t understand.
No, he didn’t understand everything yet, but enough, enough! He would give almost anything to take his revenge upon his ancient enemy. Let him die for his people. Hah! They won’t even appreciate it. Let him create this warrior church with Peter as the rock. He had dealt with Peter, his shame and guilt would haunt him the rest of his life. He was useless. The rest of the disciples the same. Yes, it was a risk. His enemy sometimes put twists and turns to his plans that were difficult to comprehend. But the risk was worth this one opportunity, this once-in-a-lifetime chance of insulting and hurting the Holy One and getting away with it.
Lucifer hunched down even lower in his great throne, almost balled up in his effort to control his great desire. His evil laughter a cackling and wheezing sound of discordant notes, as if air was being forced through broken pipes. He squeezed his red, bloodshot eyes shut and held himself tightly still in the effort to subdue the evil delight threatening to overwhelm him. He need his senses right now, he needed to control the flow of events to make sure that it all happened. He couldn’t afford a mistake at this juncture.
He forced himself to wait the final few hours until it was time. He would leave the practical work to his subordinates but he wanted reports every half hour until it was time. Since his hatred was the greatest, his desire for revenge was also the greatest. For the army of demons under his control, it would be a blood feast like nothing they had ever experienced before.
But for him, it was everything. It was worth everything he had ever done, it was worth death, it was worth depravity, it was everything he wanted and longed for and hoped to achieve. It was his justification for rebellion. It was his glory. Forever after, no matter what, it would be his glory. For it would be him, ultimately, that put to death the Son of the Living God.
“Yeeessss.” A howl of absolute joy and excitement erupted from deep within him as he shot like a bolt of lightening into the sky, screaming filthy blasphemies at the Heavens, and then diving straight into the very bowels of the earth, into the dark regions of death itself to see that all the preparations were being made according to his orders.
The demonic hordes were shocked and subdued for a time at the uncharacteristic display of lust from their leader. But as the time approached, they, too, abandoned themselves to the bloodlust with increasing excitement and evil joy.
As Pilate arrived outside, he noticed that more and more people were arriving to support the delegation. Obviously, this had all been well planned in advance. Pilate then said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no case against this man.”
But they persisted in their accusations, saying, “He is inflaming the people with his teaching all over Judaea; it has come all the way from Galilee, where he started, down to here.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man were a Galilean. Finding out that he came under Herod’s jurisdiction and that he was also in Yerushalayim for the Passover celebration, Pilate decided to pass the problem on to him.
The chief priests and scribes were not happy. This was all taking more time then they had anticipated. But they followed the Roman soldiers who had marched off with Jesus to Herod’s palace on the West Hill overlooking the Holy City.
Herod was delighted to see Jesus. He had heard about him and had been wanting for a long time to set eyes on him; moreover, he was hoping to see some miracle worked by him. So he questioned him at some length; but without getting any reply.
Meanwhile the chief priests and the scribes were there, violently pressing their accusations. Then Herod, together with his guards, treated him with contempt and made fun of him; he put a rich cloak on him and sent him back to Pilate.
When Pilate saw Jesus escorted once again into his audience chambers with a rich cloak around his shoulders. He grimaced with shame. How can it be that his own people reject him so? Herod is at least partly Jewish, though his loyalty is entirely towards Rome.
But then he checked himself. Maybe his approach is the best, he thought. Use ridicule and a good flogging to show these stubborn, jealous, paranoid leaders that they have nothing to fear from this man. It was a good thought and Pilate meditated on it.
Perhaps Herod wasn’t a complete fool, he mused. He, too, must find these religious leaders a bit difficult and stubborn to deal with. And though Herod and Pilate had been enemies before, they were reconciled that same day.
Pilate then summoned the chief priests and the leading men and the people. “You brought this man before me,” he said, “as a political agitator. Now I have gone into the matter myself in your presence and found no case against the man in respect of all the charges you bring against him.” His language was a bit formal, but Pilate had decided to exert his authority and set Jesus free. Truth would have a few more days, or weeks to live until the Jewish authorities dealt with him themselves.
He continued, “Nor has Herod either, since he has sent him back to us. As you can see, the man has done nothing that deserves death, so I shall have him flogged and then let him go.” This was supposed to be his last word on the subject, but he was shocked by the response he had sparked.
As one man they howled, “Away with him! Give us Barabbas!” The emotion and anger he had sparked amazed him.
Of course, they had planned this. They had had all morning to work out what they would do when they found out that Pilate would not merely grant their request. They knew that at festival time Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone they asked for.
Now a man called Barabbas was then in prison with the rioters who had committed murder during the recent uprising. He was a notorious brigand who used his patriotism as an excuse to rob and pillage without discrimination. He was not someone that Pilate wanted to let go. Certainly good sense would prevail and the crowds would choose Jesus over this dangerous criminal.
Pilate gave a few orders quietly and his subordinates moved quickly to obey them. He had them bring Barabbas up from the dungeon where he was waiting for his death sentence, and he came blinking and snarling into the bright light of day. His matted beard and surly look contrasted sharply with the quiet serenity of Jesus.
Pilate had both of them displayed to the crowd and then stood and addressing both the chief priests and the crowds he said, “I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me to release the king of the Jews?”
At this they shouted, “Not this man but Barabbas.”
With a sinking heart, Pilate realized that the truth would not win this battle. The chief priests had obviously incited the crowd to demand that he should release Barabbas for them instead. But Pilate was not yet done.
He decided to try Herod’s approach but added a Roman twist to it. He had Jesus taken away and scourged. A quiet word to his tribune allowed the soldiers a bit of fun at the same time.
The soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” and they slapped him in the face. And soldiers, true to their cynical nature the world over, enjoyed the cruel sport, especially the mockery of any king that challenged the might of Rome.
Pilate came outside again and said to them, “Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.” This was the moment he had planned for and Pilate kept an eye on the chief priests and elders to better gauge their response. If it was merely a question of jealousy, this mockery by the Romans should shame them. After all, Jesus was still one of them. If he mocked Jesus as the King of the Jews, they had to respond with shame and anger towards him. Even if they disagreed that Jesus was their king, they would not tolerate the mockery of their deepest messianic hopes, their deepest nationalistic dreams nurtured for centuries in every synagogue in the land.
Pilate motioned with his hand and Jesus was brought out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. With a dramatic gesture, Pilate announced, “Here is the man.” But what he expected he did not receive.
After a moment of stunned silence, the chief priests and the elders and the leaders of the people started to chant, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
The crowd, as well, took up the chant, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
Pilate, exasperated, tried to compete against their chants by shouting his own question. He said, “Why? What harm has this man done?”
But they kept on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he should be crucified. And their shouts were growing louder by the minute.
Pilate turned to the chief priests and scribes in anger and said, “Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.” He would not give up, he thought adamantly. True to his nature, this hypocrisy and petty bickering angered him and he wanted no part of it.
But the Jews replied, “We have a Law and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
The Son of God? When Pilate heard them say this, his fears increased. This wasn’t about insurrection and political hostility toward Rome, it was something else. What did Jesus say, that his kingdom was not of this world? What did he mean by that? Who was he?
Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, “Where do you come from?”
But Jesus made no answer. Pilate had to make his own choice.
Frustrated with Jesus he lashed out at him, “Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” He glowered at Jesus menacingly.
Jesus remained calm and unconcerned. The question was not one of power but of truth. The question was whether Pilate would use his power in the service of truth or in the service of expediency, ultimately serving his own interests. The question was whether Jesus was on trial or Pilate.
Jesus decided to give him one more insight into the drama that was being enacted that day in his presence.
He said quietly, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.” Yes, even the mighty power of Rome must one day account for their abuse of power. Yes, there is a greater power than the Sanhedrin, than Herod, and even than the mighty Roman Empire.
But Jesus was saying more than that. He was acknowledging the decision already made in the heart of Pilate. He was acknowledging that power over Jesus had been given to Pilate and it would be used to execute him.
And yes, Pilate had some guilt in this use of his power but the betrayer had a greater guilt. The Jews who had betrayed him to Rome, Judas who had betrayed him to the Jews, and ultimately, Satan, the great betrayer himself.
Rome, in her ignorance and pride, abused their political power in the name of expediency. But Isra´el, in knowledge and spiritual pride, abused their spiritual power in the name of hatred and revenge. All men are guilty, but the betrayer is more guilty than the sworn enemy. Treason is more despised than open warfare.
Jesus knew the hearts of all men and he discerned rightly that the battle for the soul of Pilate was nearly over. There was only one more attempt that could be made and if that failed, then Pilate would be lost and his fate sealed.
Tundrac was not happy. Pilate was proving to be more of a hindrance than a help. Where was his normal cynical, belligerent self? Where was the arrogant, angry, bitter man they had worked so hard to cultivate? He almost sounds as if he’s taking Jesus seriously, Tundrac realized.
What was wrong with everybody?
He roared out his anger and frustration, striking left and right at whoever was unlucky enough to be near. The tension of the moment and the pressure of the Dark One constantly looking over his shoulder, wanting reports every half hour even when there was nothing to report, didn’t help his temper any.
Pilate’s open minded attitude toward Jesus was throwing the entire timetable into turmoil. Not that they had any specific time limit to what they had in mind, but the desire and excitement boiling under the surface demanded the speedy fulfillment of their addiction. They pined for it, they fantasized it, they panted for it and lusted for it, almost losing control of themselves in their anticipation of it. The moment. That deeply accursed moment of craven and inexplicable self-indulgence. It was all they could think about, all they could focus on and any set back, any hesitation, any prolonged debate made them howl with frustration and rage.
Patience, patience, Tundrac kept repeating to himself. Everything is ready, the battle has begun, he chanted the litany to himself like a dirge for the dead. Like a boulder rolling downhill, he thought with satisfaction, it could take a few unexpected bounces but there was nothing that could stop it any longer.
All they needed was the official word. All they needed was for Pilate to agree, to give in to the demands of the Jews. What was taking him so long? He had killed others before this on even flimsier charges. He had murdered and robbed and manipulated before in his abuse of power. What did he care about Truth? What did he care about Innocence?
Tundrac had ordered his subordinates to turn up the pressure on Pilate by bringing in a crowd of well rehearsed rioters. He had them howl and rage at Pilate to crucify Jesus until Pilate was afraid that he, himself, was instigating a riot. Still Pilate had not given the final word. But the demons could do nothing without human authority. They had to wait.
Even through the feverish haze of desire, Tundrac was uneasy. He knew that there was something else going on. This wasn’t like Pilate at all. The enemy was at work. For some reason it was important to the enemy to make Pilate hesitate, to make Pilate clarify the real issues, to make Pilate self-consciously choose. That was all right with Tundrac. He abhorred self-delusion anyway. Pilate was a scoundrel. What he was doing was wrong, but he would do it anyway. It was an exercise in depravity, pure and simple. Nothing new there. But why did it have to take so long?
But yes, there was something new. There was him. He was new. Pilate had to know that this was no ordinary trial, no ordinary man, no ordinary travesty of justice. He had to know and condemn him to death anyway. It was the way of the world, Tundrac laughed mercilessly. To follow the truth, to listen to the voice of truth, or to decide truth for oneself, to make truth serve oneself.
Of course, Pilate would give in. This filthy bunch of animals had been doing it since his Evil master had successfully taken over at the beginning of time. Pilate was just another example of what was true for everyone. Whether the hypocrisy of the Jews or the expediency of the Gentiles, in the end, they were all the same.
And of course, although Tundrac did not have that depth of perception, that was the whole point. After all, it was not Jesus that was on trial but rather mankind.
Gabriel was busy with dangerous but important work. He was not sure why, but his Master felt it was important to give Pilate every opportunity to choose correctly. Not that there was any real hope of reprieve, there was far too much at stake for that. But his Master was full of grace, and with Pilate, as with Judas, he wanted to make sure that they understood and chose their destinies under their own responsibility.
No one was paying any attention to Pilate’s wife and it was there that the final message was to come. With two angelic guards, veiled but alert, outside of her room, Gabriel entered her bedchamber. Although her husband was already working early in the cool spring morning, she would normally sleep late.
Today her dreams would be troubled. It was nothing so specific as a message, she was an unbelieving gentile after all, and wouldn’t know an angel from her mythical gods of Olympus. So she was given impressions, vague and uneasy impressions about Jesus and fearful impressions about what her husband was doing to him. She awoke twice but fell fitfully back asleep unaware of the great drama unfolding outside the palace.
It was time. Gabriel summoned the two angelic guards and created such a ruckus of light and spiritual activity that Pontius Pilate’s wife awoke with a start, wondering what was going on. Gently Gabriel prodded her awake and she finally called for her breakfast. And with breakfast came the news. Upon hearing what was going on, she dressed quickly and made her way downstairs to get more detailed information. She never interfered in her husband’s work, but today she felt an urgency, an impending sense of doom. She felt driven to do something. But what?
Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Gabriel saw a streak of dark light stab at him and he turned sharply away, the sword of his enemy narrowly missing him.
He could not afford to make himself known, the palace was full of the dark shadows of the Evil One. So far there was only one, trying to hog the glory of battle for himself. He had counted on the element of surprise and had not realized that it was an archangel that he faced. He would realize it soon enough but far too late to do anything about it.
With a swift counter stroke and an even swifter killing thrust, Gabriel drove the demon back against the swords of his two comrades. It was over in seconds and no one the wiser. Thank God!
There was nothing more to be gained by staying here, so quickly and quietly, the three angels exited the palace and took up their vigilance from a safe distance. It galled Gabriel not to be closer to his Master but it simply wasn’t possible. There was too much at stake for a careless move at this point.
Gabriel maintained his silence and watched the Divine Irony gather strength as it poured out its wrath on the Lamb of God, and, by extension, vicariously on all of mankind. Already the first judgment, the religious judgment, given by his own people, had condemned him to death. Now the second judgment, the secular judgment, given by the rest of the world, was about to condemn him again.
With these two levels of authority in agreement, the demons would be freed to do what they do best, mock and kill and destroy. And all of creation would grieve while the heavens remained silent.
Pilate was trapped. He wanted to stay neutral and safe but the battle for Truth would not allow it. He had to choose. From the moment that Jesus had spoken to him, Pilate was anxious to set him free. But it was too little, too late.
The Jews were unrelenting in their shouts to crucify him, and they suspected that Pilate was about to set him free despite their protests. So, with demonic intelligence, they struck at the heart of Pilate’s fears and told him angrily, “if you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.”
Pilate’s heart turned cold within him. Already accusations had gone to Syria and Rome, and he was expected to make the journey soon to answer the charges. He was waiting and finding excuses why he couldn’t make the long journey, hoping beyond hope that Tiberius would die before he arrived. The reports said that he was very, very old and weak. Perhaps the fates would be kind to him. In the meantime, he could not afford to provoke new accusations or his life may be forfeited.
He looked at the chief priests and elders with slitted eyes, the malice in them plain for all to see. But, upon hearing their words, he knew that it was over.
He had Jesus brought out, and he seated himself on the chair of judgment at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was about noon.
As Jesus was brought forward with the crown of thorns still upon his head and the robe of purple still upon his shoulders, Pilate tried one last time, but the effort was weak and lacked conviction. He knew he had lost. And he wasn’t even sure why it was important. “Here is your king,” he said with a wide gesture of his arm.
“Take him away, take him away!” they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” the crowd was hoarse with their shouting.
“Do you want me to crucify your king?” Pilate said tiredly.
But the crowds did not hear him, only the chief priests and elders and they replied, “We have no king except Caesar.”
Even Pilate was surprised at that. Of course, that was the party line but it was not very popular. It was not something that was said publicly, for fear of the common people who looked for their Maschiach to throw out the Romans. So here were the leaders of the people committing treason towards their own people, instigating the execution of their spiritual king. Pilate was convinced that in some way he really was the King of the Jews, in some way that did not threaten Rome. But the chief priests and elders preferred Caesar to one of their own. And now here they were making their final betrayal public and giving open allegiance to the enemy of their own people.
He sighed deeply and was about to make his pronouncement when a messenger ran up to him breathlessly and handed him a slip of paper. He recognized it immediately as the personal stationary of his wife and was so surprised that he decided to open it immediately rather than waiting until later.
He read the message quickly. It was short but urgent. “Have nothing to do with that man; I have been upset all day by a dream I had about him.” He pondered the message for a moment. His wife was not given to hysterics or dreams or meddling in his affairs. She must have some reason for this intrusion, but it made no difference now.
It was a question of survival, political and otherwise. Perhaps his reluctance to play a part in this travesty of justice would make a difference somewhere, somehow but he doubted it. Ultimately, it was not a question of motives but of action. He would condemn Jesus, he would also betray him, and in so doing betray the Truth as he had been doing all of his life. He would hand him over to be crucified and at the same time he would condemn himself and all men who seek the truth but are not willing to pay the price of following the Truth, even to death.
He sighed, his shoulders drooping for a moment. Then like a true Roman he squared his shoulders and decided to do the practical thing, the safe thing, ultimately, the wrong thing. But then again, truth is a weak substitute for power, he thought. His cynicism had returned in full force.
So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” though he knew it was not true. “It is your concern.”
And the people to a man, shouted back, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Yes, thought Pilate, I truly hope so. But he wasn’t so sure that he, nor any man, could ultimately wash off the guilt of this most terrible of deeds. He did not understand it all, but he knew the Truth when he saw him.
Then he released Barabbas for them. Jesus had already been scourged so now he handed him over to be crucified.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, thank you for opening our eyes to see the Truth, the Way and the Life standing before us. The whole thing was a scandal. The leader accused, convicted, sentenced and executed by the religious and political authorities. The scandal and shame of the cross. Cursed by God. Condemned by man. I will follow you wherever you go. Teach me to also embrace the way of the cross for the joy set before me, as it was set before Jesus. The joy of pleasing you. It is your joy that is our strength. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.