He Washed His Hands

Some Thoughts On The Price Of Forgiveness

For some who profess the Christian faith, the end of the Easter season is signaled by an Easter egg hunt and attendance at a "dress-up" worship service. For many who claim the label "Christian," this likely means that they'll not even think about the terrible price of the salvation that believers enjoy. Far too many, I fear, will fall back into the routine of church suppers, potluck dinners and fund-raisers. Life is good. Sing another hymn, clapping hands in joy and praise. Forget the holy blood that stained the ground where the Son of God gave up His life in payment of the sin debt all men owe, or owed, to God. Rather than think on the unpleasant part of God's salvific plan, let's gather in a large church or public hall to watch musclebound men evangelize by tearing telephone books in half; or listen to a mediocre hip-hop band "evangelize" with rap music while dancers writhe sensuously in the background; or sit in rapt attention as over-the-hill football players or failed film actors "evangelize" by recounting tales of their former sin-filled lives. What does any of this have to do with taking the Gospel to the nations? Those who go for this stuff likely will argue that the dinners, torn phone books and backroom stories are but devices to attract fallen youth so that they might come to salvation.

Certainly, Jesus and His closest followers performed great works, such as raising the dead, or giving sight to a man born blind, or driving out demons; but these were God-powered miracles intended to glorify the Father and to validate Jesus' claims to be the Son of God. There is a difference. To those who would justify circus acts, autograph sessions and second-rate music as valid means of sharing the Gospel, I tender this invitation: Please explain what biblical truth is shared by breaking a baseball bat over one's thigh or blowing into a hot water bottle until it breaks.

Men who tear phone books or prance about on-stage are performers. Their theatrics are what they do. They are their jobs. There is no salvation in a busted hot water bottle or a broken baseball bat. God's forgiveness and the new birth were bought with the broken body of the Incarnate Son of God.

Please take a moment to refresh your memories of the terrible details of a miraculous event commemorated in the Easter season. After an anguished night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus of Nazareth was taken captive and hauled before the Sanhedrin to face a kangaroo court. Roman law forbade Jews from pronouncing a death sentence on those they found guilty of violating Jewish law. When they had finished their private examination of Jesus (Luke 22:66-71), the leaders of the Sanhedrin took their Prisoner to the Praetorium, where they hoped the Roman Governor would condemn Him.

Just where was the Praetorium? Was it in the Fortress of Antonia, the Roman garrison? It is likely that it was not. In the provinces, the Praetorium was the place where the Roman Governor lived. Antonia was a military post, not likely to have quarters agreeable to a Roman patrician of such illustrious rank as Pilate.

In Jerusalem, There was another place where he could have stayed. There is no biblical record, nor any other that I am aware of, concerning Pilate's residence, so it cannot be determined with absolute certainty. Herod's Palace undoubtedly had become the property of the Roman state, as was the fate of all royal residences. There is a body of evidence that Roman Procurators indeed did reside there, and even took their seat on a raised platform in front of the Palace to pronounce judgment (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 11. 14.8; Philo Ad Cajum. 38). It does seem highly probable that, when Pilate was in Jerusalem with his wife, he would choose to occupy the regal palace of Herod, as opposed to the dank and dark military fortress.

Scripture records that the hypocrites of the Sanhedrin would not enter through the gates of the Praetorium 'that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.' (John 18:28) In another study, I have addressed the issue of what 'Passover' they were talking about and the day/date of the event. Here, I want to look at the reason given by the Jewish leadership.

First, it is reality that entering the house of a heathen indeed did render a Jew Levitically impure for the remainder of that day or until sighting the first three stars of evening signaled the beginning of a new day. We know this from the New Testament (Acts 10:28) and from the Mishnah (Ohol. 18:7; Tohar. 7:3). A person who had become Levitically unclean was called 'Tebhul Yom' ('bathed of the day').

Where the excuse of the leaders of the Temple breaks down is that becoming Tebhul Yom would not have disqualified anyone from eating the Paschal Lamb, since the meal always was eaten after the evening, after a new day had begun. In fact, it was specifically declared that a person who had been impure for the day and who had bathed in the evening, did join in the Paschal supper. (Tractate Pesahim 92.a)

It is clear to me that the Sanhedrinists had some other reason for not wanting to enter into the Praetorium.

Returning briefly to an issue I have addressed in another study, the mention of eating 'the Passover' (John 18:28) does not refer to the Passover Seder Jesus and His disciples had eaten the previous evening. Both the Old Testament and Jewish writings (Deuteronomy 16:1-3; 2 Chronicles 25:1,2,6,18; Kirchener, Judische Passahfeier) clearly show that the term 'Pesach', or 'Passover', was applied not just to the Paschal Lamb, but to all the Passover sacrifices and in particular to the Chagigah, or festive offering.

Back to Pilate. When the Sanhedrinists brought Jesus before Pilate, they accused Him of treasonous behavior toward Rome and of declaring Himself a King. The question Pilate asked Jesus must have surprised the Jews. After all, he surely had consented to the use of Roman soldiers to capture Jesus just the previous evening.

They had conducted their hearing in private, while proceedings at Roman Law had to be public. Pilate asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus' response must have taken them back a bit also, "It is as you say."

It appears Jesus of Nazareth was not unknown to Pilate. This is shown by his suggestion to the Sanhedrinists that they try Him according to Jewish law. Could it have been that the Roman had come to believe the actions of the Temple leaders were due to envy?

For a Roman Procurator, Pilate seemed strangely reluctant to sentence a Jew. Hard to say what motivated him. Perhaps he simply had a perverse wish not to do the bidding of the Temple leadership. Maybe he wanted to deflate their arrogance a bit by not yielding to their demands. Perhaps the Hand of God restrained him for a time.

Some suggest that Pilate's wife may have played a hand in his indecisiveness. Perhaps Pilate, after dispatching the Roman soldiers to capture Jesus, mentioned the case to his wife. Tradition has given her a name, Procula, and one of the apocryphal gospels (Gospel According to Nicodemus, Chapter 2) claims that she was a recent convert to Judaism. As a sidebar, it is interesting that the Greek Church actually has placed her in their Catalog of Saints. If Procula, like the wife of the previous Roman Governor, actually had been a proselyte and had known of Jesus, perhaps she spoke with her husband about Him. This is another possible reason for Pilate's strange behavior.

God is Sovereign, however, and even the Roman Governor must yield to His will. Facing the Christ, he asked, "Art Though the King of the Jews?" In his voice, there must have been a mixture of contempt, cynicism and awe. A battle must have been raging within Pilate's breast. As a Roman, he must have had nothing but contempt for all things Jewish, and his general cynicism likely found it incredible to think there could be any higher authority. At the same time, one senses a certain awe, though perhaps it was due, in part at least, to superstition.

Pilate found for the Prisoner, saying "I find no guilt in this man," and sent Him off to Herod. (Matthew 22:1-7)

Herod also refused to commit, so the Temple leaders again came before Pilate.

Many know what Pilate attempted next. Calling upon the Jewish custom of releasing a condemned prisoner on Passover, he spoke to the growing crowd and offered to release Jesus. The mob, their passions fanned by the Temple leaders and their lackeys, would have none of that. Pilate, who had found no guilt in Jesus, urged the crowd to accept Jesus' release as the prisoner pardoned under Jewish law. To no avail. (Luke 23:13-25)

It was then that Pilate sat down on 'the judgment seat.' Then, he received a communication from his wife, concerning a dream she had had and begging him to have nothing to do 'with that righteous man." (Matthew 27:19) The crowd pressed for Jesus' death. At last, Pilate took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, declaring himself innocent of Christ's blood. The crowd didn't care, for they cried out, "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:24,25)

This hand washing was a Jewish custom. Pilate had learned well the ways of Palestine. Not just the ritual washing of hands, but even the words he used were those used by the priests to avoid imputed sin. It harks back to the ceremony that declared the freedom from guilt of the elders of a city where an unknown murder had been committed (Deuteronomy 21:6, et. Seq.). For the Roman Governor to use a Jewish ritual in this way must have had an impact on all present.

The Mishnah tells us (Sot. 9:6) that after the elders had solemnly washed their hands and disclaimed any guilt in the matter, the priests would pray, "Forgive it to Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, O Lord, and lay not innocent blood upon They people Israel."

And how did the crowd respond to Pilate's ritual handwashing? They cried out,"His blood be upon us, and on our children!" And so it came to pass, for some 30 years later on that very spot judgment was pronounced against some 3600 of Jerusalem's best and noblest citizens, many of whom were scourged and crucified. Not too many years later, the road leading to Jerusalem was lined with crosses bearing the remains of other Jews.

And so Christ was turned over to the soldiers, who stripped Him of His outer garments and tied Him to a post. Yet no formal judgment had been declared!

The flagellum, or scourge, was a terrible instrument. It's multiple leather thongs were loaded with lead weights, or spikes and bits of bone, which ripped into the flesh of the back and chest and face. In order to avoid violating Jewish Law, when the Jews whipped a man, they stopped at 39 strokes. The Romans were under no such limitations. The scourging would continue until the Roman purpose was satisfied.

Once the scourging ended, the Roman soldiers would have put the Victim's outer garment on again and led Him into the Praetorium. Then, they would have called out the entire cohort to participate in mocking and further tormenting their Prisoner. They ripped off His robe again and placed a crown of thorns on His head. They dressed Him in purple or scarlet. This probably was a military sagum, or short woolen cloak fastened at the shoulder with a clasp. These sometimes worn by even Roman generals. More expensive versions, made of costly material, sometimes were presented to foreign dignitaries. The soldiers gave Jesus a reed for a scepter and continued to mock and abuse Him.

Perhaps it was in the back of Pilate's mind that, seeing Jesus so abused and ridiculed, the crowd's blood lust might have been satisfied. It seems this was his purpose when he presented Jesus to the mob with the words "Behold the Man." (John 19:5)

The mob would not relent, so Pilate told them that if they wanted Jesus crucified, they would have to do it themselves. He tried again to get the Jews to spare Christ's life, but in the end, turned Jesus over to them (John 19:16)

I realize this paper addressed no Roman Catholic doctrine, nor held any Roman teachings up to the light of Scripture. I make no excuses for this. For the truly regenerate as well as those who profess saving faith, I offer this reminder of the horrible suffering of He Who took upon Himself the just penalty due for OUR sins. It is a time to remember to give thanks for the miracle of God's love and to turn away from theatrical entertainment masquerading as religous worship.

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