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The Liberator:

6—Death of a Liberator

Jesus' death was unique. Why did
this perfect man have to die?

 

Word of the arrest by the Jews had come early to Pilate, the Roman procurator. Pilate must have been mumbling about his feelings in front of his wife as he dressed quickly and went to the fortress.

 

He really didn't like the idea of doing any favors for the religious leaders. He resented their religion and had already had several confrontations with them. When he had taken money from the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct for the good of the people, they had caused an uprising. When he had brought the Roman emblem into the holy city, they had staged still another revolt. (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1969, p. 656). After all his past problems with these priests, he did not look forward to meeting them over this prophet.

The Jewish leaders brought the prisoner to the Roman fortress, but they did not enter into the Gentile judgment hall because they did not want to be defiled for their upcoming Passover festival. Pilate's frustration clearly showed on his face as he had to come out to them.

"What accusation do you bring against this man?" Pilate asked.

"If he hadn't done something wrong, we wouldn't have delivered him to you."

"You take him then, and judge him according to your own law," he said.

"We are not permitted to put anyone to death." The religious leaders had hoped Pilate would just accept their verdict. But when he questioned them, they had to come up with charges which would satisfy the Roman. So they said: "This man is misleading the nation, forbidding others to pay taxes to Caesar and saying he is the Messiah, a king!"

Pilate looked at Jesus.

"Don't you want to answer?" he asked. "Don't you hear the things they're charging against you?"

Jesus didn't answer, so Pilate brought him into the judgment hall. Taking his place on the judgment seat, he began to question his prisoner.

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

"Are you asking this for yourself, or did they tell you to ask me this?"

"Am I a Jew?" replied the exasperated governor. "Your own nation and chief priests have brought you to me. What have you done?"

"My kingdom is not of this world," the Nazarene replied.

"You are a king them?"

"I am a king. For this I was born. For this I came into the world: that I should give witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to me."

"What is truth?" replied the impatient procurator sarcastically.

There was something wrong with this whole affair. Pilate knew the religious leaders were jealous of Jesus. He also knew they wanted this man out of the way, but he didn't like the idea of being used by them. He would not be their puppet. The governor went outside to the religious leaders and the crowd which was forming.

"I find no guilt in this man," he said.

"He stirs up the people all the way from Galilee."

"Is he a Galilean?" Pilate asked.

"He's from Nazareth," they answered.

"Then he's of Herod's jurisdiction. Send him to Herod." (Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:2-7; John 18:26-38a).

It's the perfect remedy, thought Pilate. I'll rid myself of this problem by sending him to that incompetent fool. (Luke 23:12). Herod was in Jerusalem for the feast, so Pilate sent Jesus to the ruler of the northern province.

When Herod heard that Jesus was being sent to him, he was elated. Several years earlier he had arrested and beheaded John the Baptist and when Jesus had begun his ministry Herod actually feared Jesus was John the Baptist risen for the dead (Matthew 14:1-2).

"Perform some miracle for us," Herod asked with a smirk showing on his lips. "Any miracle will do. Don't you hear me? Work a miracle."

Jesus just stood silently while Herod continued to talk. He refused to answer the Galilean governor even one word.

"I don't think he has the power to do any miracles," Herod challenged. So he ridiculed and mocked the prisoner. He placed a crimson cloak over his shoulders and sent him back to Pilate. His verdict was that the Nazarene was harmless. (Luke 23:8-11).

After the return of the prisoner, Pilate appeared on the balcony and called out to the priests and the rulers of the people. "You brought me this man as one who stirs up subversion. I have examined him and found him innocent of these charges, and so did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Nothing worthy of death has been done by him. You have a custom that I should release one man at the Passover. I will therefore have him chastised, and then I will release him." (Luke 23:13-16).

A low murmur came from the crowd as Pilate disappeared inside the building. Now Pilate was certain he had the answer to the problem. He would give the crowd a choice between Jesus and a robber named Barabbas. The priests have delivered him up out of envy, he thought, but Jesus is popular with the people. They will certainly choose the prophet.

The large crowd outside began to cry out for a prisoner to be released. Pilate came out on the porch and said to the crowd, "whom do you wish me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called 'Messiah'?"

The crowd had been stirred up by the religious leaders, and instantly began to chant, "Barabbas! Barabbas! Release Barabbas!"

Pilate had not expected this. Barabbas was a robber. He had been involved in an insurrection against the government and had murdered at least one Roman soldier. What would Rome say if it heard Pilate had executed an innocent man and allowed an insurrectionist and murderer to go free?

"What shall I do with Jesus who you call King of the Jews?" he cried back to the crowd.

"Let him be crucified!" They kept shouting, "crucify him!"

"Why? What evil has he done? I found nothing in him worthy of death. I will chastise him, and then I will release him." Pilate left the balcony mystified. He had not expected the reaction of the crowd. Maybe the beating will satisfy them," he thought.

He ordered Jesus to be scourged. When the soldiers had finished whipping him, they placed a crown of thorns on his head. Pilate had him brought out on the porch once again.

"I am bring him to you so that you will know I find no fault in him." As Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the royal robe which Herod had placed on him, Pilate said: "Behold, the man!"

When the chief priests saw Jesus, they cried out again, "Crucify him!"

"You take and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him," countered the governor.

"We have a law, and by our law he serves to die, because he made himself to be God's Son." (Matthew 27:15-18, 20-23; Luke 23:17-22; John 19:1-7).

When Pilate heard this, he was startled. Who is this man? he thought. Returning to the judgment hall he had Jesus brought back in.

"Where are you from?" he asked cautiously.

Jesus didn't answer.

"You're not talking to me? Don't you realize I have the authority to have you crucified or released?"

"You would have no authority at all over me if it were not given to you from heaven. Because of this, he who delivered me to you has the greater sin."

Something just seemed wrong to Pilate. He could feel it in his bones, then a servant brought a message to him from his wife Claudia: "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him." (Matthew 27:19).

Even his own wife was concerned about this prisoner. Somehow he knew that he must free this man. Pilate went out on the porch again but one of the priests cried up at him:

"If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar's. Anyone who makes himself out to be a king is speaking against Caesar!" They were really working on the governor's mind. (John 19:8-13).

He had Jesus escorted out onto the porch for the last time.

"Here is your king."

"Take him away! Crucify him!" they clamored.

"Shall I crucify your king?"

"We have no king by Caesar!" the priests howled.

Nothing had worked. It was hopeless. And now it seemed that a riot might be building up. So the procurator called for a bowl and some water and dramatically washed his hands in front of the crowd.

"I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man. You bear witness of it."

Desiring to pacify the crowd, he commanded Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be made ready for crucifixion. (Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:15: Luke 23-25; John 19:14-16).

The soldiers led the condemned man out into a court known as the Praetorium. Here the entire battalion was called out to confront their unusual prisoner. The soldiers put a reed into his hand, then took it away from him and began to hit him over the head with it. Kneeling in front of him, they mocked him saying:

"Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20).

At nine o'clock in the morning, the prisoner had to bear his own cross as he was escorted to a hill called The Skull. When they had arrived at the place of execution, he was placed on a cross as it lay on the ground. One by one, they nailed through his hands and feet, impaling him on this instrument of death. The soldiers then lifted the cross and dropped it into a hole, causing the spikes to rip ever deeper against in his flesh.

Now Jesus suffered acutely. Hanging from a cross makes breathing difficult. The loss of blood from his many wounds racked his body, and when he cried out of water he received only vinegar on a sponge.

A number of women stood on one side of the hill, weeping. A crowd of jeering onlookers yelled challenges at the man on the cross. The soldiers cast lots to see who would get his clothes. And the creator of the universe, the God-man who had made the hill on which they all stood, allowed them to proceed.

"Father," he cried, "forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." (Matthew 27:33-36; Mark 15:22-23; Luke 23:28, 33-34; John 19:19-25).

On Jesus' cross the soldiers placed a sign which read. "THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Pilate had it written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

When the religious leaders saw the sign, they complained to the procurator.

"Don't write: "The King of the Jews'. Write, "He said, I am King of the Jews.'"

"What I have written," replied the governor, "I have written."

Because the site of the crucifixion was near the city, many passed by the scene throughout the morning. "You who would destroy the Temple and built it in three days, save yourself!" called one man.

"If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!" cried another.

"He saved others; he can't even save himself."

"He trusted in God, now let God deliver him."

Two criminals were also being executed that day. One yelled at him, "If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us!"

"Don't you fear God!?" gasped the other. "We deserve to die like this, but this man didn't do anything wrong." Then he called over to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus responded to that second thief:

"Truly I tell you, today you shall be with me in paradise." (Matthew 27:37-44; Mark 15:24-32; Luke 23:35-43; John 19:19-25).

After three long hours of mockery and pain, the real agony began. At noon, darkness suddenly enveloped the scene. Not the darkness of a clouded sky, but the darkness which comes only when the sun and the moon and the stars are totally shielded from view—a total darkness that was reported even in Rome. As it deepened, the crowd of mockers grew quiet. Torches had to be brought out, and for three long hours, until three o'clock in the afternoon, the world went black.

Here was separation. Separation from the crowd, the enemies, the friends, but most of all from the Father. It was a total separation ended only by death. Jesus the Son was being separated from the source of his being, from the source of all good. After these three hours of incomprehensible agony, Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:45-49; Mark 15:33-36; Luke 23:44-45; John 19:28-29).

When Jesus had been on the cross for six hours, he cried out, "It is finished," and then he expired.

The Gospel records record that when he died, several miraculous events were reported. The large fifteen-foot-high veil in the Temple, separating all men from the most holy place, was ripped open from top to bottom by an unseen hand. An earthquake split rocks and cracked open tombs. And it is actually reported that several dead bodies came back to life, and these men walked back into Jerusalem!

When the Roman centurion who was in charge of the crucifixion encountered the darkness, the powerful earthquake and some of the other miraculous signs which were taking place, he was overcome with fear and cried: "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:50-54; Mark 15:37-39; Luke 23:46-49; John 19:30).

The death of Jesus was not the end of his ministry. His death marked the beginning of what he came to do. Jesus' mission to the world was to save sinners from their sins; he had come to die for all men, so that all might live.

As a perfect man Jesus was the only human being who did not deserve death because of sin. As God, his demise was sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of all other men. When Jesus died on that hill, he literally suffered hell for us. He suffered so that we would not have to spend eternity paying for our own rebellion.

 

Christ suffered an died on that cross for you. His death, because he was God in the flesh, can wash away your sins—IF you let him. He also wants to come and dwell inside your heart and fill you up with his Holy Spirit. If you would like to know more on what to do, check out How to Become a Christian, and also How to Repent of Your Sins.

 

Next we'll take a look at where Jesus' Body Went.

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