Jesus Before Pilate (15:1-20)
(Matthew 27:1-2,11-31; Luke 23:1-3,1825; John 19:1-3)
1 Very early in the morning the Jewish leaders reached a decision. During the night they had condemned Jesus to death for blaspheming God (Mark 14:64). But they themselves had no authority to carry out the death penalty. Israel was a colony of the Roman Empire, and only the Roman governor Pontius Pilate108 could execute criminals. However, the charge of blasphemy against God meant nothing to the Romans. That was purely a Jewish religious matter. Pilate would not agree to execute a man for that reason. Therefore, the Jewish leaders had to bring a charge against Jesus that in Pilate’s eyes would justify the death penalty. The Sanhedrin reached a decision to charge Jesus with making Himself the “king of the Jews.” The Jewish leaders would say that Jesus was trying to set up an independent kingdom. To the Romans this would be treason; surely, Pilate would agree to execute Jesus on that charge. The Jewish leaders also falsely charged Jesus with opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar (see Luke 23:1-2).
2 Therefore, when Pilate had heard the charge against Jesus, he asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is as you say.”109 But Jesus was not the kind of king Pilate imagined. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).
3-5 Then the Jews made many more accusations, but Jesus did not answer them (see Mark 14:61 and comment).
For a more complete description of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, see John 18:2840 and comment.
According to Luke’s Gospel, Pilate found no basis for the charges against Jesus. King Herod of Galilee was also in Jerusalem at that time, and because Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Him to Herod to get Herod’s opinion on the matter. But Herod also found nothing that Jesus had done to deserve the death penalty, and so he sent Jesus back to Pilate (see Luke 23:4-16 and comment).
6-8 Each year at the Passover festival the Roman governor used to release a Jewish prisoner. This was done as a gesture to please the Jews. The Jews could choose whichever person they wanted to be freed. This year the crowd asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did, that is, to release a prisoner.
9-11 Pilate, having found no guilt in Jesus, wanted to release Him (Luke 23:20). Pilate knew that it was because of envy at Jesus’ popularity that the Jewish leaders wanted Him to be killed (verse 10). However, Pilate thought the crowd of ordinary Jews would be pleased to have Jesus released. He thought that by letting the common people choose which prisoner should be released he could keep them happy and at the same time avoid condemning an innocent man to death. Thus Pilate would be able to satisfy the people and keep a clear conscience as well.
But, to Pilate’s surprise, the people didn’t choose Jesus. Only a few days before, they had been shouting “Hosanna” as Jesus entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:9-10). Now they turned against Jesus. Why? Because the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead (verse 11). Barabbas was a convicted murderer and insurrectionist. How deeply the people were under the influence of their chief priests! How fickle the people were! One moment they had considered Jesus to be the Messiah; the next moment they considered Him worse than a murderer (see Acts 14:11,19; 2 Corinthians 6:8).
According to Matthew 27:19-21, on that same day Pilate’s wife had a dream about Jesus and sent Pilate a message saying, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man.” By this means, God sent Pilate a special warning. God in His mercy is always sending men warnings to keep them from sinning; and it is man’s responsibility to heed such warnings. But Pilate didn’t heed the warning. He gave in to the wishes of the people. He was more interested in pleasing men than in pleasing God.
12-14 Pilate was in a dilemma. He did not want to release Barabbas, because he was an insurrectionist and a murderer. And he didn’t want to condemn Jesus to death, because He had committed no crime worthy of death. According to Luke 23:22, three times Pilate appealed to the people to reconsider and allow him to release Jesus. To appease them, Pilate offered to have him punished and then release Him. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”110 (verse 14).
According to Matthew 27:24-25, Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere. An uproar was starting. If he released Jesus, surely a greater uproar would occur. And if such an uproar came to the attention of the emperor in Rome, Pilate would lose his job for failing to keep order. Therefore, he decided to send Jesus to be crucified. But first he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd (Matthew 27:24). This was a Jewish custom which signified the removing of guilt (Deuteronomy 21:6-7).
“I am innocent of this man’s blood,” said Pilate.111 And all the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:24-25). And indeed they paid for Christ’s death with their own blood forty years later when the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem and massacred all the Jews in the city.
15 In Jesus’ time, those condemned to die on the cross were first flogged. The flogging was done with whips made of leather with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end. Many people died from the flogging alone. According to John 19:1-4, Pilate hoped that by flogging Jesus the crowd would be satisfied, and stop insisting that He be crucified. However, it did not work. The crowd cried louder than ever for Jesus’ death.
16-20 Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. The soldiers first spent some time mocking and beating Jesus. During that time, according to John’s Gospel, Pilate made one final attempt to persuade the crowd to let Jesus go free. But he was unsuccessful (see John 19:1-16 and comment).
The Crucifixion (15:21-32)
(Matthew 27:32-44; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:17-24)
21 Criminals sentenced to death had to carry their own cross to the execution site. Jesus at first carried His cross (John 19:17). But because of the flogging He had been given, He was too weak to continue, and a man from Cyrene112 called Simon113 was forced to carry it for Him.
According to Luke 23:27-31, many people followed Jesus on His way to the site of execution. The women in the crowd mourned and wept for Him. But Jesus said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). Then Jesus prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. In those days, He said, those without children would be fortunate, because they would not have to see their children suffer. Also they would be able to flee more easily. As Hosea prophesied, the suffering inflicted by the Romans would be so great that people would ask the mountains and hills to fall on them and thus end their suffering (Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30).
Then according to Luke’s account, Jesus said, “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31). That is, if the Romans are crucifying Jesus, who is innocent, what will they do to the Jews of Jerusalem, who are guilty of Jesus’ death?
22-24 Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, was a small hill outside Jerusalem shaped like a skull. The women offered Jesus wine mixed with myrrh.114 Myrrh was an opiate, and it was the Jewish custom to give this to criminals about to be executed (Proverbs 31:6-7). But Jesus refused to drink this, because He had determined to endure the full suffering of the cross without the help of any drug.
It was customary for the Roman soldiers to divide up the clothes of executed criminals. According to John 19:23-24, the four soldiers who crucified Jesus divided His clothes into four shares, one for each soldier. However, Jesus’ undergarment was one piece of cloth without a seam. So instead of tearing it into four parts, the soldiers cast lots for it. In this way, the prophecy of Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled.
25 Jesus was crucified about the third hour, that is, 9 A.M. According to John 19:14, Jesus was still before Pilate at the sixth hour, or 12 noon. Some Bible scholars believe that John was calculating the “sixth hour” from midnight, according to the Roman custom, while Mark was calculating the “third hour” from sunrise, the Jewish custom. If this explanation is correct, Jesus left Pilate at 6 A.M. and was crucified at 9 A.M.115
26 The Romans used to post the charge against the criminal on the cross over the criminal’s head. Jesus’ complete inscription read: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37; Luke 23:38; John 19:19). In the Romans’ eyes, Jesus’ guilt was that He tried to make Himself a king. By writing this inscription, the Romans were giving warning to the Jews that anyone else who rose up against Rome would also receive the same punishment. According to John 19:20-22, the Jews were upset by this inscription; it mocked the Jewish nation. They tried to get Pilate to change the inscription, but Pilate refused.
After Jesus was placed on the cross, according to Luke 23:34, Jesus’ first words were: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus here has given us the supreme example of how we should forgive our enemies (see Luke 6:27; Acts 7:60).
27-28 Two robbers were also crucified with Jesus. These robbers had committed some crime against the Roman government; otherwise, they would not have received the death penalty. Their presence with Jesus was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12, which says that He was numbered with the transgressors.116
29-31 The Romans and Jews mocked Jesus. They said, “He claimed He could build the temple in three days (Mark 14:57-58); why, then, can He not come down from the cross? He saved others … but he can’t save himself.” They thought that Jesus was unable to come down from the cross. But, in fact, He could have come down. However, in order to save us from our sins, it was necessary for Him to die, just as He had three times previously told His disciples (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34).
32 “Let this Christ … come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe,” said the chief priests and teachers of the law. These Jewish leaders had earlier asked Christ for a sign, but He had refused to give them one (see Mark 8:11-12 and comment). Those whose hearts are hard will not believe even if they see a sign. Jesus rose from the dead, which was a greater miracle than coming down from the cross; but the Jews still did not believe that He was the Messiah (see Luke 16:19-31 and comment).
The two robbers being crucified on either side of Jesus also insulted Him. But, according to Luke 23:39-43, one of the robbers repented and rebuked his fellow robber. He said, “We are being punished justly, but this man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” Then the repentant robber said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). And Jesus replied: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
There are two things to learn from this. First, even though a man believes only at the very end of his life, he will be saved. Second, as soon as believers die, their spirits go to Paradise. Paradise is a place of happiness in heaven where our spirits go to await the resurrection of our bodies (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Revelation 2:7 and comments).
The Death of Jesus (15:33-41)
(Matthew 27:45-56; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-30)
33 A darkness came over the whole land from 12 noon to 3 P.M. This was not an ordinary solar eclipse,117 because the Passover festival always fell during the full moon. According to Luke, the sun stopped shining (Luke 23:45). Some great and special event occurred in the heavens during the last three hours of Jesus’ life on earth. The darkness was a sign of God’s curse upon sinful mankind; it was a sign that God had withdrawn His presence from men. Because, of all the terrible acts of men throughout history, the most terrible of all was the crucifying of Jesus, the Son of God. In the entire history of the world, there has been no time as dark and evil as those three hours.
34 Then, just before He died, Jesus called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a quotation from Psalm 22:1.
Why did Jesus say that? Because the darkness that fell on the whole land fell on Jesus also. He also, in full measure, experienced separation from God. He experienced God’s full wrath, God’s full curse upon sinful men. He knew that cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree, that is, on a cross (see Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13 and comment). During the time Jesus hung on the cross, God indeed did forsake Him. Our sin was laid on Jesus; He was made to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). But God cannot look upon sin; therefore, God withdrew His face from Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane, an angel had come to strengthen Jesus (Luke 22:43). But on the cross, there was no one to comfort and strengthen Him. This was the price that Jesus paid to redeem us, to deliver us from God’s wrath. This is what it meant for Him to give his life as a ransom for many (see Mark 10:45 and comment).
35-36 The people standing nearby heard Jesus say, “Eloi, Eloi,” and mistakenly thought He was calling the prophet Elijah.
According to John 19:28-30, Jesus said He was thirsty, so He was given a drink. When He had received the drink from the soldier, he said, “It is finished.” His work was finished. He had accomplished what His Father had sent Him into the world to do (see John 17:4).
37 At this time, according to Luke 23:46, Jesus also said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And after saying this, Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple mentioned in this verse was the curtain at the entrance to the innermost room of the Jewish temple, the “Most Holy Place,” where only the high priest was allowed to enter. The Jews considered that God’s presence dwelled in that room (see Hebrews 9:1-5 and comment). Once a year the high priest entered the Most Holy Place to offer a sacrifice for his own sins and for the sins of the people (see Hebrews 9:7 and comment). At the moment of Jesus’ death, this curtain at the entrance of the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom, that is, it was destroyed. This meant that no longer would the high priest have to enter the Most Holy Place to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin; no other sacrifice would ever be necessary.
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God has now forgiven the sins of believers and has declared them righteous. Not only that, because believers have been declared righteous by God, they can now enter directly into His presence (see Hebrews 4:16; 1 Peter 3:18). No longer is there a curtain keeping us from drawing near to God. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body … let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Many of the Jewish priests learned about the tearing of the curtain. Perhaps it is for this reason that later a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).
According to Matthew 27:51-53, there was also an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death. Tombs broke open, and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. And after Jesus’ resurrection they came into Jerusalem and appeared to many people. This was a sign of the resurrection of all believers that will occur at the end of the world. This was like an “advance” of what will happen to us when Jesus comes again. Jesus was the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and comment). He was the firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18). Thus at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, some of the Old Testament saints also rose. Then, when Jesus comes again, the rest of us shall rise also.
From this we can see that the faithful saints of the Old Testament who never knew Christ will in the end be brought to life. Christ, through His death, conquered death indeed! (1 Corinthians 15:54,57). And by His death He destroyed him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).
39 The centurion and the soldiers who crucified Jesus (Matthew 27:54) were amazed as they watched Him die. Only a short time before they had been mocking Jesus. They had driven the nails through Jesus’ hands as they placed Him on the cross. But then they saw the earth darken. They felt the earthquake. They heard the words of Jesus from the cross. They heard His final cry. Jesus did not die like other men they had seen. The centurion said, “Surely this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
40-41 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee were more faithful and devoted than Jesus’ disciples were.118 They witnessed Jesus’ death, and they later reported to the disciples what they had seen and heard.
Mary Magdalene had been healed by Jesus of seven demons (Luke 8:2). Salome was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the disciples James and John (Matthew 27:56). Some Bible scholars believe that the second Mary mentioned here was Mary the mother of Jesus, but this is not certain.
The Burial of Jesus (15:42-47)
(Matthew 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42)
42-43 On the Preparation Day of Passover week, that is, the Friday before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.119 Joseph was a member of the Council, the Sanhedrin. He was a disciple of Jesus, but he only believed secretly, because he feared the Jews (John 19:38). He was a good and upright man who had not agreed with the decision of the Jewish leaders to condemn Christ (Luke 23:50-51).
44-46 Pilate agreed to Joseph’s request. Joseph took the body and laid it in a new tomb, which he had just recently prepared for himself (Matthew 27:60; Luke 23:53). Then he sealed the entrance of the tomb with a very large stone (Mark 16:4).
Just as Jesus had no place to lay His head while He was alive (Luke 9:58),so He had no tomb in which to lay His body when He was dead. He was laid in another man’s tomb.
47 Two of the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee, Mary and Mary Magdalene (verse 40) saw where Jesus was buried. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes with which to embalm the body (Luke 23:56).
According to John 19:39-42, Nicodemus120 accompanied Joseph when he went to Pilate, and then helped him bury Jesus’ body. They wrapped the body with spices according to the Jewish custom. The women wanted to add additional spices as a token of their love and devotion to Jesus.