Episode 139 - Before Pilate, part 1 - Opening Up the Gospels

Hey everyone, I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 139 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 134, we’ve been looking at the movements of Jesus from His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane that all occurred on the last night and final morning of His life before His crucifixion in April of 29AD. All four Gospels complement one another in the details they give. In the last episode, we saw Jesus questioned and mocked once again by the Jewish authorities at the break of dawn, after a long and weary night in captivity. The full Sanhedrin, minus those who had abstained from the proceedings, had agreed that Jesus was blaspheming and was deserving of death. As we’ll see in today’s episode, Jesus is then led to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. So let’s begin reading today from John 18: “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” (John 18:28 ESV) John tells us that Jesus was led from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and that it was early morning. So we can imagine this taking place just as the sun is rising, likely between 6 and 7AM according to our modern reckoning. Let’s talk about the Praetorium for a second. The Praetorium was the Roman governor’s official residence in Judea. Typically the Romans would conquer an area, appropriate the palaces of the king of the local area, and then put their own governor in there themselves. So in the case of Judea and Jerusalem, Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea, was occupying the former palace of Herod the Great, the same Herod we find early on in the Gospels around the time of Jesus’ birth. During most of the year, Pilate would be dwelling in Caesarea, as we see in the rest of the New Testament with those who came after him. But the Passover feast was an occasion for him to come to Jerusalem, mostly as a show of political strength in the midst of a time when Israel was focused on remembering the ancient promises God had made to them. If there were to be any sort of trouble like an uprising or revolt from the people, odds would be that it would take place during the Passover and in Jerusalem. Now the Praetorium would have been one of the most spectacular buildings of Herod, as it was his own palace. Let’s take a look at a map for a second. The Praetorium was here, in the western area of the city. It was a large area that would have been raised up slightly, and this is where Jesus was taken by the Jews. James Stalker describes it this way: When there, he took up his residence in what had formerly been the royal palace while Judæa still had a king. It had been built by Herod the Great, who had a passion for architecture; and it was situated on the hill to the south-west of the one on which the temple stood. It was a splendid building, rivalling the temple itself in appearance, and so large as to be capable of containing a small army. It consisted of two colossal wings, springing forward on either side, and a connecting building between. In front of the latter stretched a broad pavement; and here, in the open air, on a raised platform, was the scene of the trial; because the Jewish authorities would not enter the building, which to them was unclean. Pilate had to yield to their scruples, though probably cursing them in his heart. But, indeed, it was quite common for the Romans to hold courts of justice in the open air. The front of the palace, all round, was supported by massive pillars, forming broad, shady colonnades; and round the building there extended a park, with walks, trees and ponds, where fountains cast their sparkling jets high into the sunshine and flocks of tame doves plumed their feathers at the water’s edge. Stalker, J. (1894). The trial and death of Jesus Christ: a devotional history of Our Lord’s passion (pp. 47–48). New York: George H. Doran Company. Now John records that the Jews did not enter the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled and would be clean in order to be able to continue to participate in the Passover festivities. They considered Pilate’s dwelling unclean. There’s a couple of points I want to make about this. First, this is just such a hypocritical action on the part of the Jews that condemned Jesus. They just got finished falsely accusing Him, essentially beginning the first steps of a judicial murder, and now they refuse to enter Pilate’s house for the fear of being ritually unclean. How crazy is that? Secondly, what John said at the end of the passage, “so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover”, has created some misunderstanding related to the chronology of the Passion narratives in each of the Gospels. The reason why this is confusing to us is because we’re not aware of everything that was actually celebrated as a part of the Passover. To hear that wouldn’t have been perplexing to a Jew or someone who was familiar with Jewish rituals. Some authors have seen this particular verse as a point of contradiction between John and the other Gospels, and yet others have tried to explain it by saying that the other meals described by Matthew, Mark, and Luke were actually not the Passover meal. I don’t think that’s the case at all, because Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:12 through 16, and Luke 22:7, 13, and 19 all describe the meal in the upper room as the Passover meal. So what is John actually describing? Well, there was the evening meal at sundown, the meal we’ve already looked at, and on the day after there was a special offering that followed the usual morning sacrifice in the Temple. That offering was then eaten in the afternoon. 2 Chronicles 35 describes this, during the days of King Josiah. This was a very public, very corporate meal, and the offering was carried out by the priests. This is the meal that the Jewish authorities wanted to eat, which is why they were concerned about ritual impurity. Does that make sense? Also, it would not have made sense for the Jews to worry about being unclean and unable to eat the first evening Passover meal, because according to the Law, the unclean status ends at sunset. So they would have been totally free to eat the evening meal if this is what was being referred to. So again, John is referring to the Jews wanting to participate in the larger feast later in the day. “Eating the Passover” did not just mean the private supper the evening before. Before we continue looking at the scene before Pilate, I want you to see how John and the other Gospels all agree on something else very significant. Matthew, Luke, and John all say that Jesus was crucified on the “Preparation Day”. This is the day that comes before the Sabbath, or Saturday in our modern reckoning. Look at these verses and notice how they all mention “the Day of Preparation”: “It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.” (Luke 23:54 ESV) “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” … Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:14,31 ESV) “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate…” (Matthew 27:62 ESV) This phrase, the “Day of Preparation”, did not mean preparation for the Passover meal, it meant the day before the Sabbath, or what was called the great “high” Sabbath. In other words, not only was it a Sabbath, but it was the Sabbath during the Passover. This “high Sabbath” is what followed the “Day of Preparation”. The Gospels really make this clear, but sometimes if you’re just reading along with all the details in your mind, it can seem confusing. So what’s the point? Well, this tells us that it was Friday when Jesus was crucified, the high Sabbath was Saturday as usual, and it puts the Passover meal with the disciples in the upper room on Thursday night. There’s been talk over the years of different chronologies of Passion Week, but I think what we have from church history (meaning: Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday) is correct and consistent with Scripture. Well, let’s read more of the account of Jesus before Pilate from Luke 23: “Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”” (Luke 23:1–2 ESV) Now we shouldn’t just think that Pilate knows nothing about Jesus, and just wakes up that morning with a bunch of angry Jews on his doorstep. Either Annas or Caiaphas had obtained the Roman troops to arrest Jesus the night before, and so Pilate must have had at least some knowledge of Jesus. I think we can presume that he was expecting a visit from the Jewish authorities at some point, because surely his troops would not have failed. Now Luke uses the phrase “whole multitude” to describe the group that rose up from the meeting to lead Jesus to Pilate. I think this would have been not the entire Sanhedrin, but certainly a large representation of the priests and elders. Let’s look at a little diagram here for a second. Remember, the Jews would not go in to the Praetorium for fear of defilement. So Pilate “went out” to them, as the Gospels say. He would have gone out to an area called the “pavement”, which was in front of his palace, and would have sat here to listen to the accusations against Jesus. We’ll see that Pilate brings Jesus into the Praetorium later on, while the Jews remain outside, again to avoid uncleanness. The contrast between Jesus and the rest of the Jews just grows larger and larger by the moment. We’re out of time for today but as we’ll see in the next episode, Pilate begins the informal hearing by looking for some sort of accusation against Jesus that could be grounds for conviction. The Jews try to bring evidence that would cause Pilate to sentence Jesus to death, but they had absolutely nothing. Come back next time and we’ll continue looking at Luke 23 and John 18.