28 ¶ Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. 29 Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? 30 They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. 31 Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: 32 That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. 33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? 34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? 35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. 37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. 38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. 39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.
The Jews did not want to enter the judgment hall of the Roman governor, Pilate, lest they be defiled for the Jews were all about their spiritual superiority over their rulers and the worry about being tainted by contact with them. Verse 31 presents us with an interesting question. If the Jews were not allowed to inflict capital punishment then were they not risking Roman justice by threatening to stone the woman caught in adultery and would they not, in Acts 7, be in danger because of their stoning of Stephen?
Here we have a crowd demanding that a Roman governor put Jesus to death and insisting that they have no lawful right to do so themselves. So, clearly they needed Roman permission for a death sentence to be executed. They certainly weren’t afraid to murder someone they were enraged at, as we see in the two aforementioned passages about the woman taken in adultery and Stephen’s extrajudicial murder. The Jews wanted Jesus crucified, not stoned. They wanted Him treated like a common criminal by the Romans, someone guilty of a capital crime that was worthy of death. Worthy of death to them they wanted to be worthy of death to the Romans. This becomes a political issue very quickly and is very dangerous to Pilate’s position among a people who are constantly creating civil disturbances.
It is also a matter of prophecy. Verse 32 shows us why, in how Jesus was to die. Being hung on a tree becomes a euphemism for being crucified on a cross of wood.
Deuteronomy 21:22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree…
As Peter said;
Acts 5:30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
Acts 10:39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
Galatians 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
The Jews were not going to take Jesus out in an extrajudicial proceeding. They wanted the full Roman authority behind His death as if He were an insurrectionist fomenting a disturbance against Rome’s authority itself. I point you back to what Caiaphas said much earlier about the need to sacrifice Jesus.
John 11:47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. 48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. 49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. 53 Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. 33 This he said, signifying what death he should die.
Pilate tried to see if Jesus would claim to be the king of the Jews, thereby lending credence to the Jews’ accusation without proof. But, Jesus tells Pilate an important truth that Christ’s kingdom is not of this earth. This has been a hard pill for state religionists to swallow so it is usually ignored. The Roman Catholic Church thought that they were ruling the earth in Christ’s name and that His kingdom was represented by them for many centuries. The American Theological Review, in 1859, said that postmillennialism, whereby a millennium would be set up and the religion of Christ would be everywhere and, “his spiritual reign would be universal,” and that would be followed by Christ’s physical return was the, “commonly received doctrine.” While admitting that this was not what the early church believed, as they and we believe He will return first to rule and then the millennium, the thousand year reign, will come, the author goes on to say that the early church was simply wrong.(28)
From the America’s earliest days prominent voices like John Winthrop evoked the concept of America’s destiny to be, “a city upon a hill,” and that, “the eyes of all people are upon us.”(29) Preachers and prominent men, such as the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, at the country’s victory in the American Revolution, referred to God’s special grace on America as a divinely inspired (and white) nation.(30) This early concept of America’s divinely ordained place in the world is represented by the co-opting of the reference in Daniel 2:45 in the Old Testament to a fifth kingdom that is, “a stone cut out of the mountain without hands,” that smashes the feet of the statue of past kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which was prominent in the early American mind, as preached by Rev. Pitts before Congress itself in 1857.(31) Early American writers spoke of a millennium to come of peace and progress initiated by America’s very existence.(32) Millennial beliefs based on the Bible combined with a faith in America’s inevitable progress and capacity for being a beacon of freedom in the world was common in American belief. John Eliot, Cotton Mather, and other notables such as Jonathan Edwards linked America during the colonial days with a golden age of progress for mankind and as the center of the millennium of Christ’s reign, although without Christ being physically present but reigning through the church, a radical departure from traditional Calvinism’s hopelessness for a world full of sinful, depraved men.(33)
But, they were wrong. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world as in a physical, earthly kingdom until He reigns from Jerusalem in the millennium over the all the kingdoms of the earth, as the early church believed and the Bible teaches. The kingdom of God is invisible on earth. It is in each believer connecting them to their king, Jesus Christ, who is God.
Luke 17:20 ¶ And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
So, how plain does that have to be? Jesus will bring in His physical kingdom when He returns.
Revelation 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
For two thousand years groups of so-called Christians have been murdering and pillaging under the excuse of bringing in Christ’s kingdom. The weapons of our warfare are not physical, though.
2Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…
Pilate asks Jesus directly if He is a king. Jesus answers that He came into this world to bear witness to the truth. Then, Pilate asks sarcastically, “What is truth?”
Having found no fault with Christ Pilate offers His release to the Jews, as we as the custom at Passover. But, they cry out for a robber and a murderer (Mark 15:7) to be released.
The world will always prefer to glorify thieves and murderers to Christ and unfortunately, so do most Christians. Liberal Christians seek the approval of powerful men in government and business whose intentions may be totally selfish and ungodly. I recall listening to Billy Graham, on tape, and reading about Anthony Campolo justifying the wrongs of presidents, saying what they wanted to hear and pumping up their huge egos. Fundamentalists will totally disregard Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the sermon given on a plain in Luke, 6, and preach a militaristic, hate-strewn, justification of every war the high mucketymucks say we need and every policy of someone who convinces them that they want to return America to some mythical time when it was God-fearing, decent, and moral. But, the Christ of the Bible, not so much. Give us Barabbas. He’s cooler and appeals to the flesh more.
(28) Henry Boynton Smith, ”History of Opinions Respecting the Millennium,” The American Theological Review (Boston: Charles Scribner & Son, 1859), 642.
(29) John Winthrop, “A Modell of Christian Charity,” Hanover Historical Texts Project (1630, repr., Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1838) http://history.hanover.edu/texts/winthmod.html (last modified, August, 1996.)
(30) Ezra Stiles, “The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor,” in The Pulpit of the American Revolution, or, The Political Sermons of the Period of 1776, John Wingate Thornton, ed., (Boston: D. Lothrop & Publishers, 1876), 405.
(31) Fountain E. Pitts, A Defence of Armageddon or Our Great Country Foretold in the Holy Scriptures In two discourses, Delivered in the Capitol of the United States, at the request of several members of Congress, on the anniversary of Washington's birthday, 1857. (Baltimore: J.W. Bull Publishers, 1859), 90.
(32) David E. Smith, “Millenarian Scholarship in America,” American Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 3 (Autumn, 1965), 541. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2710907. (accessed 10.28.2015).
(33) Ibid., 539.