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prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person ; see ye to it.
To wash the hands as a symbol of innocence, was in use among the Jews; see Deut. xxi. 6, 7. In allusion to it the Psalmist says, Psalm xxvi. 6, “I will wash my hands in innocency.” It was also practised by the heathens. By this ceremony Pilate gave the most so-. lemn and public testimony to the innocence of Jesus, and declared, at the same time, that he would have no concern in his death: he was probably afraid that if he had opposed the wishes of the people any longer, they might have seized Jesus by force, and put him to death with their own hands; as they did afterwards in the case of Stephen. This does not justify his conduct; for he ought to have risked the worst consequences rather than put an innocent person to death: but his guilt in consenting to his death is less than that of the Jews in calling for it.
25. Then answered all the people and said, His blood be upon us and our children!
We are willing to make ourselves responsible for all the guilt which may attend putting him to death.Thinking that Jesus, who was now apprehended, and appeared no longer able to defend himself, could not enjoy the favour of God, or be the Messiah, they ut: tered this imprecation upon themselves without fear,
1. We may observe the wisdom of Providence in permitting Jesus to appear before different tribunals,
for hereby the prophecies relating to him, which foretold that he should be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, were fulfilled; and his innocence was rendered more certain and conspicuous. Had there been any thing criminal in his conduct, it could not fail to be discovered by one or the other of his different judges: but if they all fail in finding evidence of guilt, it affords the strongest presumption that he is innocent. Jesus was to be the Saviour of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews : it was proper therefore for their satisfaction that he should be called before one of their own body, and that there should appear in him nothing worthy of death.
To be condemned by two tribunals, and to have the second confirming the sentence of the first, may appear, at first view, to be a reflection upon the character of the Saviour, and to afford a strong presumption of his guilt. But, if we examine the matter, we shall find that it has quite an opposite effect: for what are the charges brought against him, and upon which he is convicted? By the Jewish Sanhedrim he is accused of blasphemy, and upon that accusation, condemned to die! But when his enemies bring him before Pilate, they are so fully convinced that this charge was frivolous, or ill-supported, that they take fresh ground, and hereby afford a plain proof of the injustice of their former sentence. They now accuse him of attempting to make himself king, in opposition to Cæsar; the very thing which they wished him to do, and in which he would have experienced their most zealous support. But there was nothing for which his conduct afforded less colour than this calumny: for when the people would have taken him by force, and made him a king, he withdrew himself from them: he never had denied the authority of Cæsar, nor encouraged tumult or seditions. So weak and ill founded does the charge appear, that Pilate himself, who had every reason to be jealous of any attempt against the government, and would have been glad of a colourable pretext for putting him to death, is obliged to acquit him, and takes no small pains to obtain his liberty. When they call out for his execution, he reasons and expostulates with them upon the injustice of their conduct. When his expostulations are of no avail, he endeavours to throw the blame of his condemnation of Christ entirely upon the people: I am innocent of the blood of this just person; see ye to it.
2. How astonishing is it that the people should prefer Barabbas to Christ, if indeed it was their choice! They denied the holy one and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted to them! Wicked and ungrateful people! Where was your regard to religion, your respect for justice, your love of innocence, your gratitude to a benefactor, when you made such a choice : Had you forgotten that you had heard him speak in your temple and synagogues; how much you had admired the excellence of his discourses and the wisdom of his replies, and how deeply you had been affected with his zeal to instruct you? Or had you forgotten, what indeed you would set a higher value upon, the regard which he had shewn to your temporal interests, by miraculously healing all your diseases? Had all these things vanished from your remembrance so speedily; or was the merit which they discovered all cancelled? It was but a few days before that you had honoured him with a triumphal procession into your city, and welcomed his entrance with joyful acclamations, and fervent prayers to Heaven for his safety. But now your language is changed: Let him be crucified, is your cry: let his blood be upon us and our children. Such is the power of prejudice to blind the understanding and harden the heart; and so unstable is popular applause !
3. How odious is the character of a judge who sacrifices to his ambition his regard to justice! Such was the conduct of Pilate, in giving up Jesus to his enemies, by which he has brought upon himself the execration of posterity, and fixed eternal infamy upon his character. He had in his hands the power of immortalizing his name, hy rescuing an innocent person and most eminent prophet from the malice of blood-thirsty enemies: his conscience dictated to him what he ought to do. But he had not virtue enough to follow its directions: he was afraid of losing the favour of the multitude, and of being deprived of the honours bestowed upon him by Cæsar. From these base and selfish motives, he condemns to death the most distinguished prophet who ever appeared in the world. It is with satisfaction we hear that this great sacrifice of conscience, which this unrighteous judge made, to his political interest and ambition, did not contribute in the least to the security or advancement of his favourite objects: for we know, from good authority, that he was, not long after, removed from his government in disgrace; sent to Rome, to answer for his crimes, and banished to Vienne, in Gaul, where, languishing for some time in great misery, he at length ended his life with his own hands.
Matthew xxvii. 26----38.
26. Then released he Barabbas unto them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
The Romans had used to scourge criminals who were to be crucified: as the latter punishment was to be inflicted upon Jesus, he was not exempted from the former: this circumstance, together with all the other particulars accompanying this transaction, shows plainly that Pilate did not deliver up Jesus to the Jews uncondemned, and suffer the Jews to crucify him, but that he passed a formal sentence upon him, and executed it himself, agreeably to the forms prescribed by the Roman law.
27. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common-hall, or Pretorium, which was the palace of the Roman governor, and used by him for the administration of justice, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
The first party of soldiers were those who accompanied the governor, in the execution of his office as judge, to preserve order, and to prevent the prisoner from being rescued; they now called to them the rest of the band, or the whole Roman cohort, which guarded the governor's palace, and consisted of between four and five hundred men.
28. And they stripped him *, i. e. took off his upper garment, and put on him a scarlet robe.
A purple or scarlet cloak was worn by persons of noble or royal rank: by putting such a cloak upon Jesus, they intended to ridicule his pretensions to be a king.
29. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it
his head, and a reed in his right hand, and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, king of the Jews.
A crown of gold, worn upon the head, is a distinguished part of the dress of a king: that put upon the head of Jesus was composed of far meaner materials f. In derision of his pretensions to the title of king, a reed was put into his hand, to represent a sceptre, another ensign of royalty; and they kneeled before him, in allusion to the practice of persons presenting themselves before eastern monarchs in this humble posture.
30. And they spat upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
This last act of abuse was probably intended as a chastisement for not assuming the manners of a king,
Matt. v. 40, ix. 20, 21. xiv. 36. xxi. 7, 8.
† But see Bp. Pearce in loc.