Summary: An overview of the trials of Jesus
The plot of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill A Mocking Bird” revolves around the courtroom trial of an innocent black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. In spite of his innocence and in spite of the valiant efforts made by his attorney, Atticus Finch, the fate of the defendant, Tom Robinson, was uncertain in the hands of a prejudiced jury. This is a very tragic story. For nothing is quite as disturbing and causes our blood to boil as much as when the gavel of justice falls to flatten the life of an innocent person. The trials of Jesus were infinitely more tragic. Not only was Jesus innocent of the accusations made against Him, He was innocent of ever committing a sin. If ever there was a great miscarriage of justice, it took place on that dark and prejudiced Jerusalem night. In all of history, no trial stands as such a blatant disregard of justice as do the trials of Jesus. There were six of them in all, each illegal, without one piece of evidence being produced from any of the witnesses. Yet in spite of the groundless accusations, Jesus was handed a death sentence. There was no attorney to plead His case, for even His closest friends had abandoned Him on this night. All that is left is a question asked by Pilate that will not go away. “What then shall I do with Jesus?” The problem of what to do with Jesus just will not go away. No other person in human history forces a decision from us the way the Jesus does. Pilate, the religious leaders, Barabbas, the crowd and even us today cannot escape.
I. A brief overview of the trials endured by Christ.
A. What type of trial took place, Jewish or Roman?
1. At the time of Christ, Palestine was under the thumb of Roman rule.
2. The Jews were allowed to conduct trials under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, but they did not of the authority to issue a death sentence.
3. Capital Punishment required the approval of the Roman government.
4. This sheds some light as to the reason that they did not simply seize Jesus, drag Him outside the city, and stone him.
5. It was necessary for Jesus to also appear in front of the Roman authorities.
B. There were two formal charges brought against Jesus; blasphemy and treason.
1. Under the Jewish law, the most serious charge that could be brought against a person is that of blasphemy; which under Jewish law was punishable by death.
2. The Jewish leaders wanted to execute Jesus, so the shipped Him off to appear in front of the Roman authorities but religious charges carried no weight in the court of Rome.
3. The problem was that the Roman government could care less about blasphemy, which is the reason behind the second charge, treason that was the most serious crime in the Roman world.
C. What would the ultimate verdict be; innocent or guilty?
1. The Jewish leaders’ worst nightmare was that Pilate would release Jesus back on the streets where His popularity would continue to build.
2. The Jews were only interested in one verdict, guilty. A guilty verdict would lead to death by crucifixion.
3. There was one major hurdle to gaining a guilty verdict, the absence of evidence.
4. The dilemma is quite perplexing; how to pressure Pilate into issuing a guilty verdict.
II. The case: an overview of the trial before Pontius Pilate.
A. Who was this man named Pontius Pilate?
1. Pontius Pilate was the sixth Roman procurator to serve in Judea and served from 26-36 AD.
2. Pilate had been in office about six years, and was probably about the same age as Jesus.
3. Pilate was described as being brutal, sarcastic, unsympathetic and very much against the Jews.
4. In fact, Scripture has been kinder to Pilate than secular historians have. He was described as a stern, even cruel governor.
B. How did the Jews gain enough of an advantage to apply pressure to Pilate?
1. The Jews did not like him because he did things that deliberately violated their Law and provoked them.
2. Pilate felt the Jewish religion was fanaticism of the worst kind.
3. Pilate’s position was always rather precarious because of his bad relationship with Israel and because of Rome’s changing policy with the Jews.
4. Pilate face a huge dilemma, his emperor was Tiberius, who was quite harsh with governors who mistreated is provincial subjects.
5. The Jews had the ability to really turn up the heat on Pilate and get their way with the fact they could report his actions.
6. Pilate’s interest in releasing Jesus was probably due, at least in part, to his dislike of being used by the Jewish authorities.