Skip to main content

Chapter 16

Bigotry in Fear Condems and Kills

Scarcely has he spoken with them again, when a winding row of flickering lights is seen coming up the stony pathway which he and his disciples have trodden so often. Some of the chief priests and Pharisees and their officers, other haters of ‘this man Jesus,’ and a considerable number of loiterers-about, in all making no small group, confront and begin to encircle him.

He knows what it means. He is ready. ‘Whom seek ye?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ‘I am he,’ he replied. Then as he motions towards the disciples: ‘Let these go their way.’ Even the kiss of Judas isn’t necessary, the sign agreed upon when he made his money compact with the chief priests.

The priestly party, with their officers and the motley crowd following them, make their way down the path across the brook and back through the city gates. The accounts differ, but one says that instead of being taken directly before the high priest who ordered his arrest, he was taken to the ex-high priest and man of dubious honesty, Annas. Why this move? The answer may be found in the fact that the chief reason why he must be put out of the way — it would simmer down eventually to his interference with the temple traffic — must not appear to the public or to the Roman authorities.

Annas, respectable, safe as a churchman, wealthy, astute, experienced, with his four sons forming a coterie, would be able to devise the most expedient manoeuvre. Moreover, having had other dealings with the Roman governor Pilate, who would have to sanction any charges brought against the prisoner before sentence could be carried out, he, Annas, could best devise the means of approach. What passed between him and the prisoner is not recorded, only that he was sent bound under cover of darkness to Caiaphas the high priest. A speedy call was sent for the gathering of the members of the Sanhedrin, and immediately charges were brought, or rather first devised and then brought.

The first charges and the most plausible were those of sedition. He had tried persistently to disturb the peace of the nation; he had spoken against the authority of Caesar, when all knew that they had no king but Caesar. False witnesses were hired to testify against him along these lines. They could get no agreement among them, so these charges failed.

The proceedings were exciting — desperation sometimes breeds excitement. Various attempts ware made to make Jesus talk, so as to convict him from evidence out of his own mouth. He knew his legal rights and in the main kept silent. Once when the high priest asked him why he did not reply to the charges, in a quiet, clear-cut manner Jesus replied: ‘lf I told you, you would not believe me, nor would you let me go.’

Time is being lost. Their quarry may escape. The high priest cuts matters short and comes directly to the question in reserve. Said Caiaphas: ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the living God ‘ The answer was, ‘I am.’ They had him put under oath. Jesus knew what that meant. He did not evade; but he made no attempt to explain to their dull and unsympathetic ears just what he meant. To make oneself equal to God or to rank with God was blasphemy in the Jewish law at that time, and was punishable by death. Caiaphas tore his garment. It was a part of their code for a high priest to tear his garment on hearing a blasphemy. The high priest then said: ‘What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye?’ ‘And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.

So far so good. But the right of imposing a death sentence had been taken away from them when they came politically under the Roman rule.

It must be sanctioned by the Roman authorities. Pilate, the Governor of Judea, the local representative of the Emperor Tiberius, was reluctant to yield to the wishes of the Sanhedrin. He quickly realised that their charges of sedition were trumped-up charges. He knew practically nothing of Jesus. Hearing it mentioned that he was a prophet from Galilee, in order to find a way of escape for himself, he sent him to Herod who was the ruler of the province of Galilee, and who was in Jcrusalem at the time. Herod refused to sanction the conviction, and sent him back to Pilate.

After examining Jesus privately and at length, Pilate came out and announced that he found no charges which would warrant the death penalty. He gave every evidence of wanting to be just and fair in his findings — even more than the prisoner would allow him; for he could get no help from Jesus. Twice he decided and announced to them that he would let him go. That was his own inclination and his own judgment: ‘I find no fault in this man.’ The desperation of the members of the Sanhedrin and their followers, now a large gathering, grew so that it turned them almost into a shouting mob.

Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, said unto them: ‘Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him. No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him. (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas (who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison). Pilate, therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that be might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required, and he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.’ (Luke xxiii. 14-25.)

One can’t help having a certain sympathy for Pilate. He evidently had a sense of fairness and justice. He occupied a peculiar position and he felt he must consider his own security in that position. Had he possessed the bravery, or even a mere fraction of the courage, of the man whose conviction he finally and reluctantly sanctioned, the desperate determination of the members of the Sanhedrin would have been thwarted. Had he known the real stature of the man before him, had he known what the coming ages would bring, he undoubtedly would have done otherwise. As it was, he was eventually relieved of office and recalled to Rome, and there he took his own life.

The same element of haste that had prevailed marked now the action of the priestly group; for almost immediately Jesus was led away, followed by chief priests, various members of the Sanhedrin and a varied crowd, to an elevated spot just outside the city, where executions by crucifixion, the Roman method then in vogue, were carried out. Stoning to death would have been the Jewish method that would have been used, were they still retaining their political power.

Preparations are quickly under way and the prophet of Galilee was nailed through hands and feet to the cross, Two others wcre executed at the same time, one an either side. Theirs was a common and insignificant offence: theft. No attention was paid to them by those present high in authority; for the thieving of these men had been petty and could not have affected their own thieving — indirect but on a much larger scale. The man they were interested to kill, had he been allowed to proceed with his enlightenment of the people, might have freed the people from the domination of the priestly class, so that their authority and their business might easily have come to an end. Good churchmen, good business men, respectable, keen, calculating, they knew it and they worked under cover.

Bigotry is a spawn of dogma that builds itself into a religious system, or rather a system of so-called religion. While preparations were under way many respectable and pious Jews, some of high authority who as a rule would scarcely hurt a fly, reviled him with various types of obscene names, struck him, and spat in his face. Honestly and righteously they did it from a sense of duty; for they were told that he was a blasphemer, and the fact that he was there under sentence to die was proof of it. They were therefore not bigots, but honest religious men upholding the sacred honour of a sacred religious institution and so serving their God so they were taught by the system, and so they believed .

The afternoon wore away and eventide approached. The soldiers on guard sat by, gambling, and one account says that they gambled for his garments. Jesus could see everything that was going on and hear everything that was being said. The same love and courage that had dominated every act of his life were manifested by him before he was raised on the cross and while life was ebbing on the cross.

When he was reviled he reviled not again. He knew the ignorance and the passions of men; but he knew equally well, if not better, the power of love, and it undoubtedly helped give him a self-contained fortitude in this fiinal crisis of his life. He knew why he was here. He was dying for a purpose: the truth and the continuing power of his life message; and it gave him a self-mastery and a courage that undoubtedly lightened his pain.

Even here he lived his teachings. Even for his enemies, acting through ignorance, he was concerned — ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ He understood thoroughly why he was dying; it was a part of his plan sanctioned by the love and wisdom of his Father that he should give his life for the sealing of his truth. He knew even here that he would have the same care and guidance of the Father that he had always had, and that He would not desert him.

Concerning that love and care he never had had any doubt; and he had no doubt here. When he cried near the close: ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,’ he neither thought: nor said: ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ The real meaning of these Aramaic words is: ‘My God, for this end was I kept. I am fulfilling my destiny. I am dying for the truth that Thou gavest me; to this end was I born; to this end I am now come.’

And then, he cried triumphantly: ‘It is finished. Right through to the end that same faith and courage and confidence: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’


Syndicate content