Monday, October 28, 2013
by Mike Robinson
The study of everything that stands connected with the death of Christ, whether it be in the types of the ceremonial law, the predictions of the prophets, the narratives of the gospels, the doctrines of the epistles, or the sublime vision of the Apocalypse, this is the food of the soul, the manna from heaven, the bread of life. This is "meat indeed" and "drink indeed.”1
On the first Good Friday Jesus was nailed to a cross between two other men who were both criminals. The cross was wood and it was large and heavy. The stake was already fixed permanently in the ground and would have simply been reused from previous executions. Jesus carried the crossbeam of the cross (the patibulum) which was dense and weighty. Roman annals report that the nails were driven between the radial and ulna bones in the forearms, between the elbow and the wrist. The Jewish people considered the wrist to be part of the hand.
Usually a small sign was placed on top of the cross detailing the name of the person and his crime. Typically, the crucifixion procession was composed of soldiers with a flogger, executioner, civil authorities, and of course the criminal hauling the crossbeam. Beside the path would have been loved-ones, friends, and interested citizens watching the activities. When the procession arrived at the appointed post, the criminal was then nailed to the crossbeam. Next, the man nailed to the crossbeam, was raised, and the crossbeam was placed on the cross and then tightly secured.
The law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression (Romans 4:15).
The passion or suffering that Jesus was going to experience was not only the torrent of physical pain, but also the judgment and wrath of God that was due sinners (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-22; Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 2:21). He knew the pain that was about to be unleashed upon Him and since He was God, He could have escaped it. But Christ chose the suffering instead. He elected to go to the cross on our behalf. He was obedient, to atone for our disobedience.
Remember Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, at the home of the chief priest and when Jesus remained quiet at the questioning of Caiaphas, a guard struck Him across the face. Then He was mocked by the palace guards and aggressively pushed around. Later, soldiers took turns hitting and spitting on Him.
After that, Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate’s palace. Undoubtedly Jesus was considerably parched, fatigued, and bruised from His battering as well as the lack of rest. After all of the trials, Pilate washed his hands and condemned Christ to a scourging followed by crucifixion. The flogging would have caused deep welts to appear. Scourging was an extended method of whipping, where the victim's garments were torn off by the force of extreme lashing. Many historians assert that the Jews had a law prohibiting more than 40 lashes. But that was not the case with the Romans. Christ was cruelly whipped with a cattail which was a whip with numerous tentacles where the ends were tied with small balls of metal, nails, bone, and stones. The guard would whip the shoulders, posterior, and legs—it would create deep slashes, agonizing bruises, and an unmatched amount of pain. Often it could leave the victim in shock—the whipping would leave the flesh from the back dangling off as long pieces and covered in blood. The idea was to whip the victim in a systematic manner in order to keep him alive for prolonged torture. This meant that the Romans were watchful not to puncture a lung or a vital organ because that would have slain the criminal and stopped the torture.
Throughout this horrible agony of the scourging, the pain would be crushing, causing Christ to slip in and out of consciousness. After the flogging they would unfasten Him, making Him collapse on the dirt and blood. The guards then placed a scepter in His hands, with beaten arms throbbing from the whipping, and then they drove a crown of large thorns* into His head. These sharp bristles were brutal and caused abundant bleeding. The guards continued to ridicule Christ and mercilessly beat Him across His face.
Oh, the precious blood of Christ the crucified,
It speaks for me before Your throne;
Where I stand justified,
And who am I that I should know this treasure of such worth;
My Savior’s pure atoning blood, shed for the wrath I’d earned.
The soldiers placed the crossbeam across Christ’s shoulders and steered Him to the place of crucifixion. He was in agonizing pain from the whipping, beating, and torment. He was led into the procession carrying the cross along the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Suffering). Whilst on the way, Christ would have been in terrible pain, bleeding from the previous wounds and carrying of the heavy crossbeam. Thus, His muscles were pushed beyond their endurance into hypovolemic shock. The Bible reports that the soldiers seized Simon from Cyrene and mandated that he carry the cross for the rest of the way (Luke 23:26).
Jesus arrived at Golgotha where the stake was already in place. He was experiencing deep trauma from all of the previous torture as He was then nailed onto the crossbeam through His wrists by nails the size of railway spikes. These huge nails were driven through the wrists and the feet as they were plunged deep into the timber of the cross. Some guards, using large long tools and riggings, lifted Him up on the stake. The agony and pain of the nails being hammered through would have been extremely intense and shocking. Christ’s shoulders were pushed back against the rugged cross as He was being elevated. Then His left foot was positioned in such a way that would prolong the crucifixion and torture. Christ was offered a vinegar mixture with myrrh—a mild analgesic (gall). At first Jesus refused to drink any of it, not accepting any shortcuts or yielding to their vicious intentions. Lastly, the placard, "King of the Jews," was placed at the top of the cross. Jesus was crucified.
Commentator Matthew Henry explains: “Crucifixion was a death used only among the Romans; it was very terrible and miserable. A cross was laid on the ground, to which the hands and feet were nailed, it was then lifted up and fixed upright, so that the weight of the body hung on the nails, till the sufferer died in agony. Christ thus answered the type of the brazen serpent raised on a pole. Christ underwent all the misery and shame here related, that He might purchase for us everlasting life, and joy, and glory.”2 The physical agony was horrendous—this pointed to the true horror, the pain from the wrath of God poured out on Christ.
While Christ was suspended on the cross, He would have writhed to lift His body as it ripped His flesh from the nails driven directly in His wrists and feet. He would have had to do this for every breath, pushing Himself up and down in order to simply seize a breath. Once He stopped doing this, He would not be able to inhale or exhale anymore. Usually death by crucifixion was not by the injuries or the loss of blood, but by asphyxiation due to the victim not being able to push enough to support himself to breathe. Christ would have been moving Himself upward to escape the pain and lowering Himself to inhale air. Near expiration, a crucified man would only catch a quick breath. Yet, Jesus had mercy for the soldiers who were rolling dice for His clothes, and He asked, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." At that juncture, the two thieves were quarrelling, one recognized that Jesus was Lord, and Jesus told him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise." Then He saw His mother and John, and asked him to care for His mother (John 19:25-27). So even while in great torment, Jesus' highest concern was for other people.
For a more exhaustive study see my new book "Killing Christ: Contesting Trendy Critics" HERE
1. Weiler, J.H.H. First Things, The Trial of Jesus, July 2010.
2. Piper, John.
I. Jewish law banned all criminal proceedings by night.
II. Hebrew law prohibited a lone judge or official from interrogating an accused person judicially or presiding as judge regarding the legal rights of the accused.
III. Private preliminary criminal hearings were explicitly prohibited by Jewish law.
IV. The striking of Jesus by the officer during the examination before Annas was both illegal and inhumane (John 18:22).
Jewish Trial Synopsis
The Jewish trial of Jesus Christ was unequivocally illegal, the court which condemned Him lacked jurisdiction to try a capital crime—blasphemy under Jewish law. The council had rendered itself unfit to judge the case since they were abundantly biased and unfair. Moreover, they failed to safeguard the rights of the accused.
In a case of condemnation, Hebrew law required that two sessions of the Sanhedrin must be held a day apart. In the case of a capital trial, the sentence could not be pronounced until the afternoon of the second day. The Hebrew trial of Jesus was thus illegal for it was concluded within one day, with the entire proceedings taking place the fourteenth of Nisan, the first lunar month of the Jewish year.
In pecuniary [money fines] cases a trial may end the same day it began. In capital cases acquittal [declaring innocent] may be pronounced the same day, but the pronouncing of sentence of death must be deferred until the following day in the hope that some argument may meanwhile be discovered in favor of the accused.
The trials were at night which made them illegal: "Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night." Additionally, the Hebrew trial and condemnation of Jesus was illegal because it was held on the day before the Seventh-day Sabbath as well as the day before a Jewish ceremonial holyday—Pesach (Passover): "They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath, or on that of any festival."
The permitting of the ill treatment of Jesus between the court hearings was illegal and immoral by Jewish law. Furthermore, the Jewish court trials of Jesus never furnished any adequate testimony of witnesses against Him. However, a sentence of condemnation was declared (see Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30).
Under Jewish law, the judge was bound by law to seek evidence only on behalf of the defendant. Likewise, to assure justice for the accused the arguments must begin on behalf of him. Only after one judge or more had spoken on his behalf was it permitted to have witnesses speak against the accused. These rules were abandoned in the trial of Christ.
The conviction of Jesus was illegal inasmuch as it was based on His own confession (Mark 14:61-64). The guilty verdict was based exclusively on the testimony of Jesus. "They answered and said. He is guilty of death" (Matthew 26:66). Jesus was queried with a direct question as to whether He was the Christ (Mashiach in Hebrew: Messiah). It would have been to His benefit if He remained silent, and He had the right to do such. But silence at this time would have been essentially a disavowal of His identity, duty, and burden.
Beyond that, the trial of Jesus was unlawful because it was built upon bribery. The judges of Jesus had bribed Judas with silver in order to show their guards where to arrest Him (Luke 22:3-6). The Law of Moses made bribery illegal (Exodus 23:1-8). Under Jewish law, this encompassed judges who provided bribes as well those who received them.
Jewish Law Violated
Jewish law had been violated in essential ways in the following important respects:
- Selected judges had their hand in the arrest of Christ.
- The judges coached the testimony of false witnesses.
- Members of the council attempted to force a confession before the trial.
- The assembly initiated the trial at night.
- The judges interrogated Christ and attempted to direct the accused to offer an admission or confession.
- The council rendered a verdict of guilty at night before the daytime session.
- The council declared both verdicts without the required legal evidence.
Throughout the whole course of that trial the rules of the Jewish law of procedure were grossly violated, and the accused was deprived of rights, belonging even to the meanest [lowliest] citizen. He was arrested in the night, bound as a malefactor, beaten before His arraignment, and struck in open court during the trial; He was tried on a feast day, and before sunrise; He was compelled to criminate Himself, and this, under an oath of solemn judicial adjuration; and He was sentenced on the same day of the conviction. In all these particulars the law was wholly disregarded.
The Roman Trial Under Pilate
Will You not speak to me? Do You not know that I have power to release You, and have power to crucify You? (John 19:10).
The Jewish authorities deemed it necessary to entreat the Roman civil establishment in applying the death sentence since the nation of Israel lost the power to apply the death penalty. They took the manacled Jesus and led Him to Pilate. He was taken to the judgment hall of the palace (Pretorium). The Jewish elders, deeply averse to defile themselves religiously by entering into a pagan house and thereby making themselves unclean for Passover (Pesach), stayed outside the Pretorium on the adjacent patio.
The Roman proceedings were conducted under a structure different from the Jewish Mishnahic system. Roman law was unsympathetic, stout, and aimed for justice. The autocratic and republican Rome focused on protecting the rights and freedoms of Roman citizens, even in a conquered province (see the Roman citizen Paul’s experience: Acts 16:35-39; 22:24-29; 25:10-12). The province of Judea had been almost entirely at the mercy of the Roman procurator (governor): Pilate. Pilate was responsible to the imperial crown alone—he held tremendous local power.
Pilate, with respect to the religiosity of the priests’ scruples against entering the palace, went to the patio at their entreaty. He asked them a legal question—an inquiry from the opening of a typical Roman trial: "What accusation do you bring against this man?” The Jewish leaders answered Pilate: “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up unto you" (John 18:29). Pilate replied, "Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said unto him, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" (John 18:31).
Recognizing that Pilate would not condemn Jesus on Roman law, "the Jewish leaders started to accuse Christ saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ a king’" (Luke 23:2). This was an indictment of three counts; an allegation comprising three charges. Pilate locked on one of the charges: treason against Rome. This was the highest offense one could commit under Roman rule.
Pilate’s Examination and Exoneration
The indicters leveled their accusations and then Pilate returned to the Pretorium to cross-examine Christ regarding the accusation of treason. All the Gospels record the same question asked Him by Pilate, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "You say it." John tells us that Jesus also asked Pilate, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” (John 18:34). Christ went on to clarify that His kingdom was not of this world, but it was a spiritual realm. Pilate appeared to be mollified by His clarification and sat at his judgment seat and pronounced his judgment, "I find in Him no fault at all" (John 18:38).
According to the Roman law of the period, this ruling of acquittal should have ended the trial and freed Christ. Nonetheless, new rounds of accusations were pressed at the tribunal without a response from Christ. Pilate vacillated and sent Jesus to a new trial under Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who was then in Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 23:7).
Herod and Christ
Herod mocks Jesus. … He “dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate” (23:11). The “brilliant” robe (sometimes a textual variant is accepted that makes the translation “robes of light”) reminds us of the flashing robes of Jesus at the mount of transfiguration. The transfiguration is a proleptic revelation of the future glory of the Son of Man, and Jesus has just told the Sanhedrin that He will one day come into that glory. Herod confirms Jesus’ prediction, giving Him the robe of exaltation in the midst of His humiliation.
Herod had yearned to see Jesus and "hoped to see some miracle done by Him,” and "questioned Him in many words; but He answered him nothing." The elders and priests, arrived at the King’s palace and "stood, vehemently accusing" Jesus (Luke 23:8-10). However, Herod was mindful that Pilate had already acquitted Christ; in which case a new trial by him would be unlawful. Herod declined the jurisdiction and sent Christ back to Pilate (but the soldiers mocked Christ during His incarceration at Herod’s).
Jesus the Son of God or Barabbas?
And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”—who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder. Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed (Luke 23:18-23).
Pilate recommenced his station on the judgment seat outside as Christ was brought in for another hearing. The legal charade that followed was completely absent of justice. Pilate tried again to secure the accord of the Jewish leaders to release Christ (Luke 23:13). Pilate noted that there was no legal proof given to attest to the charges leveled against Jesus. Additionally, he mentioned the annual tradition of releasing at Passover a prisoner designated by the people—a type of holiday gift to captive Israel. Pilate adjoined this to a scourging of Christ (perhaps Pilate was worried because of a missive he received from his wife regarding her nightmare she had about Christ. She warned Pilate to have “nothing to do with that righteous man" (Matthew 27:19). In the intervening time, the Jewish leaders were rigging the vote by placing their people in the crowd to demand that Barabbas (his name means “son of the father”) be released and not Christ (Matthew 27:20). When Pilate admonished them to free Christ (Son of the Father), the crowd shouted, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas." Then regarding Jesus they cried, "Crucify Him, crucify Him." A third attempt by Pilate also failed and Barabbas was released (Luke 23:18-23).
Mathew Henry paints this picture from his commentary on Matthew 27:11-25:
Having no malice against Jesus, Pilate urged him to clear himself, and labored to get him discharged. The message from his wife was a warning. God has many ways of giving checks to sinners, in their sinful pursuits, and it is a great mercy to have such checks from Providence, from faithful friends, and from our own consciences. O do not this abominable thing which the Lord hates! ... Being overruled by the priests, the people made choice of Barabbas. Multitudes who choose the world, rather than God, for their ruler and portion, thus choose their own delusions. The Jews were so bent upon the death of Christ, that Pilate thought it would be dangerous to refuse. And this struggle shows the power of conscience even on the worst men. Yet all was so ordered to make it evident that Christ suffered for no fault of his own, but for the sins of his people. How vain for Pilate to expect to free himself from the guilt of the innocent blood of a righteous person, whom he was by his office bound to protect! The Jews' curse upon themselves has been awfully answered in the sufferings of their nation. None could bear the sin of others, except Him that had no sin of his own to answer for. And are we not all concerned? Is not Barabbas preferred to Jesus, when sinners reject salvation that they may retain their darling sins, which rob God of his glory, and murder their souls? The blood of Christ is now upon us for good, through mercy, by the Jews' rejection of it. O let us flee to it for refuge!9
Christ, supremely innocent, suffers while the malevolent Barabbas is released.
For more check out my new book "Killing Christ: Contesting Trendy Critics Regarding the Death and Resurrection of Jesus" HERE
Killing Christ is a valuable resource for students of the gospels, and a highly stimulating volume for all interested in Christian truth. The section on the harmony of the Gospel accounts, regarding the trials and crucifixion, alone makes this a valuable tool for apologetics. It will be hard to come away from this book without a feeling of having been enriched and challenged. This is a book that will be formative for average Christians and scholars as well as students and pastors—the author is clear, accessible and passionate.
Mike Robinson, author of dozens of books on apologetics, and the long-time pastor of Christ Covenant Church and instructor at CCBS.
1. "Be not a sole judge, for there is no sole judge but God, the One” (Mishnah). It was understood that only God was capable of judging without counsel.
2. Mishnah. Sanhedrin, section 8.
3. Mishnah. Sanhedrin, section 3.
4. Mishnah. Sanhedrin, section 4.
5. Mishnah. Sanhedrin, section 4. "If one witness contradicts another, the testimony is not accepted.”
6. This illegitimate sentence was predicted hundreds of years before the trial of Christ (Isaiah 59:16, 63:3-5).
7. Under the Law of Moses, if a chief priest deliberately rent his clothing, he was automatically disbarred as high priest and was to be put to death (Leviticus 10:6, 21:10). Caiaphas tore his clothing during the trial of Jesus.
8. Greenleaf, Simon (professor of law at Harvard University). The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice.
9. Henry, Matthew. Mathew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Matthew.
Buy this remarkable volume on Amazon Here Killing Christ
Friday, October 25, 2013
Killing Jesus Required False Testimony
by Mike Robinson
During the time of Christ, there were three chief categories of testimony according to the Mishnah: irrelevant or useless testimony, a standing testimony, and a satisfactory testimony. The irrelevant testimony was rejected. The standing testimony was accepted if and when it was confirmed. The satisfactory testimony was based on the agreed testimony of two or three witnesses. The testimony collected in the trials of Jesus was inadmissible since it was irrelevant testimony (Mark 14:56).
Jesus had two primary trials (Jewish ecclesiastical and Roman criminal) and numerous legal proceedings within each. The ecclesiastical trial yielded a conviction of blasphemy. The Roman trial never produced a guilty verdict but ended with the death sentence for Christ. Pilate declared that Jesus was innocent (John 18:29-30). Jesus was initially brought to Pilate without formal charges since Rome would not accept a Jewish blasphemy charge for indictment. The elders and Pilate came together together, trying to come up with a charge that would stick—one that was within the jurisdiction of Roman law. They tried various accusations; finally they charged Christ with treason against Caesar and Rome. They misrepresented Christ’s view on taxes and kingship: “We have found this man subverting the nation… He opposes taxes to Caesar … and claims to be a king” (Luke 23:2). Jesus was a target of religious persecution and Roman injustice, but was completely innocent. Pilate sentenced Christ to die by crucifixion (John 19:16), even though he declared Him guiltless (Luke 23:14-22).
Christ was executed without a Roman verdict of guilt; nonetheless He was crucified for religious reasons. The Jewish leaders insisted: “We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God” (John 19:5-7). Jesus was killed because Temple authorities asserted that He was guilty of blasphemy. Additional charges were raised because the Jewish leaders knew that Pilate would never approve an execution on a point of religious law. Other charges that fell short of indictment were: Jesus’ threat to destroy the Temple (a misunderstanding of His body metaphor); subverting Caesar; prohibiting the payment of taxes to Rome; inciting rebellion; and claiming to be a king. Perhaps Pilate allowed the unjust sentence to be carried out in fearful deference to Caesar, but, criminally, the chief reason for the crucifixion was not for tax prohibition (Bill O’Reilly) or revolutionary ideas (Reza Aslan). Christ was crucified for blasphemy (John 19:5-7).
Moreover, atonement for sins was the supreme reason for the execution of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53; John 3:15-19; Romans 3:20-26, 4:5; Titus 3:4-7). Jesus died to atone for the sins of men and to set them free.
He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:25).
Jesus is the vicarious substitution since He died for our sins on our behalf. Christ was offered in place of us. Jesus accomplished that which we could simply not. He vicariously stood in our place and bore our sins on the cross as He made propitiation for our sins.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).
Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed (Romans 3:25).
To see fresh insights into the arrest, trial, and killing of Jesus Christ see my new book Killing Christ HERE. It looks at the death of Christ using ancient Jewish and Roman sources. In it, the reader discovers how the story of the killing of Jesus is at once transcendent, historical, and religious, yet true truth.