Summary: The passion of Jesus is happening precisely because Jesus is perfect and in perfect control. All this handing over is going according to script.
We continue along the road that for Jesus has been a travesty of justice and friendship. First, Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, is conspired against by their leaders. Judas, one of his disciples, sells his loyalty to the conspirators. The rest of the disciples abandon him at his arrest. None stood beside him during his time of wrestling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. A fraudulent trial is held by the Sanhedrin to condemn him. Peter, who is the most loyal and devoted of the disciples, denies him. And now this road of disgrace continues.
Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
I mentioned when in the text that covers the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus, that though verse 64 speaks of the leaders condemning him, it would not be until later when they issued the official verdict of guilty. One of their tasks to take care of was to come up with the appropriate accusation to then take to the Roman governor, Pilate.
We need to take time now for an overview of the Roman involvement in this case. For a nation bent on conquer and world domination, Rome was a fairly enlightened and tolerant country. For the most part, it allowed the conquered countries a fair amount of autonomy. Kings and local rulers could continue to govern their countries and territories to a certain extent, provided they were loyal to Rome and ruled tolerably well. Herod the Great was a case in point. He ruled Israel for forty years almost as an autonomous king. After his death in 4 B.C., his territory was divided three ways by the Emperor Augustus as a compromise to satisfy Herod’s three bickering sons. Archelaus’ territory included Judea, where Jerusalem is located. Archelaus was so ruthless a ruler that both the Jews and Samaritans (who hated one another) went together to Rome and complained to the Emperor. He then deposed Archelaus, but instead of giving the territory to one of the brothers, the Emperor placed a Roman official, called a prefect or procurator, in charge.
Israel, and particularly the territory of Judea, was a difficult land to manage. Think how Muslim extremists despise American infidels for being stationed on the “holy” land of Saudi Arabia. This was how the Jewish people felt about Roman occupation. We think the Jews despised the Romans over the issue of freedom. The Jews had relative freedom, as much as anyone else. It was not lack of freedom that embittered them, but the blasphemous condition of pagans occupying and ruling the chosen people of God in his own territory. There were many uprisings in the land, and almost all of them had something to do with this issue. Early in his reign, Archelaus suppressed an uprising that resulted in 3,000 deaths. What caused the uprising? The Romans had placed their eagle insignia on the Temple gate, which was subsequently cut down. Herod had the men killed who cut it down, which sometime later led to the uprising.
The Emperor wanted a Roman official who be both loyal and capable of wise governing. For a prefect, this assignment was probably the worse that one could be assigned to because of what was mentioned above. Besides, Judea was “Nowheresville,” as far from Rome as one did not want to be. Pilate was assigned to this position in 26 A.D., twenty years after Archelaus and about the time that Jesus would have begun his ministry in Galilee. Pilate’s headquarters was not in Jerusalem, but Caesarea, sixty-five miles NW of Jerusalem on the coast. Pilate traveled to Jerusalem only on feast days, to keep close watch over the festivities which were ripe times for fomenting revolt.
Where now does the Prefect or Procurator Pilate fit in with the trial of Jesus? The Sanhedrin did have authority to hold its own trials and for the most part render its own punishments. What it could not do, however, was execute a condemned man. For that, a decision must be rendered by the Roman authority, in this case Pilate. As prefect, Pilate served as judge and jury. Though he may have counselors, he alone decided a case, which was on ongoing responsibility.
Now, let’s consider Pilate himself. He does not make the lists of “Best Roman Prefects.” Josephus, an historian in the same century, reported an incident that displayed Pilate’s brutality and general lack of common sense. He robbed money from the Temple treasury to pay for an aqueduct system. A crowd gathered to protest this action. Pilate sent in undercover Roman soldiers to mingle among the crowd, and then at signal, to bludgeon and massacre the people. Luke passes on a report (13:1) of an incident in which Pilate had Galilean worshippers massacred and their blood then mingled with the blood of the animals they were taking to the Temple to sacrifice. Philo, a Jewish philosopher of the first century listed his complaints of Pilate’s rule: the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty.” Finally, the governor of Syria took action and had Pilate removed from office.