Robert Jeffress - Jesus or Barabbas?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The story of Jesus journey to the cross is one of the most gripping accounts of all time. It's the story of a perfect sinless man who died at the hands of those he came to save. They treated him as a condemned criminal and today we're going to look at the six trials of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion and discover what took place during those final hours of his earthly life. My message is titled "Jesus or Barabbas"? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
We have a word in our English language we use to describe horrendous pain. It's the word excruciating. You're familiar with that word. That kidney stone was excruciating. It's pain, unbearable pain, but even though we use that word, most of us don't know the origin, the etymology of that word. Excruciating, ex, the prefix means out of, crux , Latin for cross. Literally, excruciating means out of the cross. The physical pain associated with crucifixion was so horrible that a word had to be invented to describe it. Out of the cross came horrendous pain, but out of the cross also came our salvation. And that's the truth we're going to see in our final message from the Gospel of Luke.
If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Luke 22. Luke 22, we're now in the final 15 hours of Jesus' life before his crucifixion. Remember what had happened, he had gathered together in the upper room with his disciples to observe the Passover, transform it into what would be the Lord's supper. And then they went from that upper room across the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives, and they stopped in Gethsemane where Jesus prayed. It was there in the garden that he was arrested by Judas the traitor and by the Jewish leaders. It probably happened about one o'clock in the morning between midnight and one o'clock on Friday morning.
Now, for the next 15 hours, Jesus would go through six different trials before his crucifixion at 9:00 A.M., Friday morning. But all of these events were built around six different trials Jesus would go through that would lead to his crucifixion. Three of those trials were religious trials. Three of them were civil trials by the Romans. Now I've heard this all in my life as you have, but it really wasn't until this week that I came to understand why he had to go through so many trials, why there was a religious trial and then a civil trial. The Jews wanted to get rid of Jesus. Their charge against him was blasphemy. He was claiming to be the Son of God.
Now the natural question is why is that blasphemy? The Jews had been praying for thousands of years for a Messiah, shouldn't they have welcomed a Messiah? Why would they want to kill somebody for claiming to be the Messiah? Three quick reasons. The first of all, Jesus didn't fit their idea of what the Messiah should be. They were looking for a political leader, somebody who would overthrow the Roman government. And while it's true that the Messiah would set up his kingdom on the earth that would be at a second coming. His first coming was to be the suffering servant, to die for the sins of the people. They didn't get that, so he didn't meet the expectations.
The second reason was because Jesus was able to see what was in their hearts, these religious leaders. Oh, sure, they had a veneer of religiosity about them, but they were further away from God than the gentiles were. Then Jesus could see right through those pharisees and knew that they had hearts that were like stone.
And the third reason they hated Jesus wanting to get rid of him was envy, Mark 15 says. The chief priest didn't like the fact that Jesus was drawing bigger crowds than they were and so they wanted to get rid of him. Now the problem with this is the Jews live in occupied territory. Rome was in charge and only Rome had the right to take a life, to execute capital punishment. So in order to crucify Jesus, the Jews had to deliver Jesus over for a civil trial and we'll see this in just a moment. The Romans didn't care about blasphemy. They didn't care about this religious stuff. There had to be a different set of charges to convict Jesus in making worthy of capital punishment. And those charges would not be blasphemy, they would be treason, an insurrection, trying to rival the kingdom of the emperor Tiberius.
That's why there were two different sets of trials, the religious trials and then the civil trials. Let's look first at the religious trials. Luke 22:54 says: after arresting Jesus, they carried him and brought him to the house of the high priest. Now we saw last time, the high priest at the time of Jesus' trial was a man named Caiaphas. He was the high priest. Could I point out that for 1900 years, since the crucifixion of Jesus, there was never any evidence that there was ever a man named Caiaphas who even lived much less was the high priest in Jerusalem? Critics of the Bible said, "Ugh, that's just a myth. There's no confirmation of somebody named Caiaphas". Yet in 1990 in the City of Jerusalem, the tomb of Caiaphas was discovered and the inscription of the tomb shows that he was the high priest, exactly during the time of Jesus.
Now, Caiaphas' predecessor right before him was his father-in-law Annas, he had just been the high priest. And so the high priest home here consisted of both the living quarters for Caiaphas, the current high priest and his father-in-law Annas. And so when they brought Jesus to the home of the high priest, Luke doesn't record this, but John 18 does. They first bring him to the father-in-law Annas, the high priest emeritus if you will. They thought they could get a quick conviction that Annas would come up with a way in order to charge Jesus. It didn't work out the way they thought it would, Jesus didn't give them the testimony they wanted, so even though that was the first trial, Jesus before Annas, it was inconsequential. And that moves to the second trial of Jesus, Jesus before Caiaphas. They take Jesus away from Annas, they go across the courtyard where Peter was out, waiting to see what was going to happen and he stands before Caiaphas, the current high priest.
Now we don't have a record in Luke of what happened at that trial, but Mark tells us in Mark 14. So hold your place here and turn to Mark 14, beginning with verse, let's say 57. And some stood up and they begin to give false testimony against Jesus saying, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days I will build another made without hands'". And not even in this respect was their testimony consistent. These false witnesses were tripping over one another in contradictions. And the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus saying, "Do you make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against you"? But Jesus kept silent and made no answer.
Again, the high priest was questioning him and saying to him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one"? And Jesus said, "I am". Don't let anybody tell you, teenagers, college students and college, that oh, Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, that's just something that was tacked on by some overzealous apostles later on. Right here, clearly he says, "I am". And then to add injury to insult, he quotes a verse from Daniel 7 about the Messiah. He says, "And you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with clouds of heaven", that's all Caiaphas needed to hear, "And tearing his clothes, the high priest said, 'what further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy, how does it seem to you'? And they all condemned him to be deserving of death".
Now turn back over to Luke 22, where it picks up in verse 63 and the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him and beating him and then they engaged in a sadistic version of blind man's bluff. They put a blindfold around him and started to strike him and say, "Prophesy, who is it that has hit you"? And they were saying many other things against him, blaspheming. Isn't it ironic? They were accusing Jesus of blasphemy when in fact they were the ones guilty of blasphemy. They then took him from the house of Caiaphas. For the third and final trial, the religious trial and that is Jesus before the Sanhedrin.
Look at verse 66. And when it was day, the council of elders of the people assembled both chief priests and scribes, and they led him away to the council chamber. Many people don't understand about the Sanhedrin. Every village, every town had a Sanhedrin, a ruling council to settle disputes. But then there was the great Sanhedrin that is the supreme court of Israel that consisted of about 70 individuals who would hear the most complicated and controversial cases. And so they assembled together as many of the Sanhedrin as they could get together on short notice.
And interestingly, one of those members of the Sanhedrin was a man named Joseph who lived and came from Arimathea. Joseph of Arimathea, he was there and two days later he would offer his tomb that he owned as a burial place for Jesus. He meets before the Sanhedrin and they ask him the question, "Are you the Christos, the Christ"? That's the Greek equivalent of Messiah. Are you the Messiah? Verse 67, and he said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe and if I ask a question you will not answer". Why should I even bother to answer you? You don't want the truth. To quote Jack Nicholson in "A few good men", "You can't handle the truth". That's what he was saying to these Sanhedrin.
But then he relented and he went ahead and answered, verse 69. "But from now on, the Son of man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God". That is a quotation of Psalm 110:1, another Messianic Psalm. Jesus was saying, one day you will see me seated before the right hand of God the Father. Now, that was blasphemy that a mere man says, I will be seated at the right hand of a transcendent God, that's all they needed to hear. They ask again though, verse 70, make sure they had it right. "Are you the Son of God then"? And Jesus again said to them, "Yes I am". And they said, "What further need do we have of testimony for we have heard it ourselves from his own mouth" the Jews convicted him of blasphemy.
But remember the Romans who had the power to carry out a capital sentence, they couldn't care less about blasphemy. If somebody wanted to be the Son of God, fine, let him be the Son of God. Heck, if somebody wanted to be God himself, they didn't care. The Romans were polytheistic, they believed in many Gods, what's one more God? No, they didn't care about that and so these Jewish leaders knowing that had to trump up some charges that would get Rome's attention. And that's what you see happening when they bring Jesus to Pilate. The civil trials begin in Luke 23, having convicted him a blast for me, they now bring him before Pilate, look at verse 1.
Then the whole body of them arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. Pontius Pilate is a very interesting character in secular history. Pilate was the prefect, he was the governor of Judea. He was appointed by Tiberius the Roman emperor to rule over the area of Judea on behalf of Rome. Now, the job of a governor was twofold, to keep order and he was given a military to do that and secondly, to collect taxes. That's all Rome wanted to do, keep order and collect the taxes. And so you understand why it is Pilate feels threatened as you'll see in just a moment.
Now, Pilate lived most of the year in a palace at Caesarea. Caesarea by the sea, we call it. It's not Caesarea Philippa it's Caesarea by the sea. Just a few months ago, a whole group of us went to this Caesarea by the sea. They've done great excavations there and much of what Pilate had has been excavated there. I might point out to you that like Caiaphas for 1900 years, nobody in secular history believed there were such a person as Pontius Pilate. They said, there's one more myth in the Bible, Pontius Pilate, there's no record of that. But in 1961, in Caesarea by the sea, an Italian archeologists discovered what today we call the Pilate stone. It was a stone and on the inscription, there it names, Pontius Pilate as the governor of Judea, exactly during the years that Christ was alive and ministered one more of the many confirmations from archeology of scripture.
Now Pilate stayed at Caesarea by the sea, but because it was passover, he came to Jerusalem after all, there were 2 million plus Jews in Jerusalem for the passover. He needed to come there in order to maintain order and so while he was in Jerusalem, he stayed his palace known as the praetorium. Pilate had a very tenuous relationship with Rome. Pilate was extremely antisemitic. He hated the Jews, Rome didn't care about that, but because he was so antisemitic, he took six aggressive offensive actions toward the Jews that got them all stirred up and caused some many insurrections. And so Pilate's standing with the Romans was on shaky ground. In fact, there were efforts to recall him as governor.
So because of his tenuous relationship with Rome, Pilate wanted to make sure there were no more insurrections. And that gives you a background to understand why this whole situation of Jesus was such a sticky issue. Look at verses 3 and 4, they bring Jesus before Pilate and Pilate asked Jesus saying, "Are you," well, look back at verse 2 for a moment. Notice the charge they trumped up against Jesus. They begin to accuse Jesus saying, we found this man misleading our nation and doing what? Forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar and saying that he himself is Christ. Remember, all Pilate was supposed to do was collect the taxes and keep peace there. So what do they say, Pilate, you've gotta do something. This guy is forbidding the Jews from paying taxes to Caesar.
Now, was that true? The opposite was true. They'd tried to trick Jesus saying, "Is it rightful to pay taxes to Caesar"? Jesus holds up the coin and says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God". So that was an outright lie. Then they say, not only that he's saying that he himself is a king, that is he's going to set up a kingdom and try to topple that of Tiberius Caesar. Look at verse 3. So Pilate asked Jesus saying, "Are you the king of the Jews"? And he answered him and said, "It is, as you say". And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, I find no fault, I find no guilt in this man. Why not, he had just claimed to be a king, yet his Pilate looked at Jesus, he didn't see anything threatening there. This guy's a king, he couldn't rule himself out of a paper sack. There's no threat here, let him go. Let's be done with this.
Verse 5. But they kept on insisting saying, he stirs up the people teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee, even as far as this place, but when Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who himself was also in Jerusalem at this time. As soon as Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate said, phew, "Man, I'm off the hook on this one. If he's from Galilee in the north, that's not my jurisdiction. I'm going to let Herod handle the matter. After all Herod's in town too for the passover, let's get rid of this and let Herod deal with Jesus".
And so they take Jesus before Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was one of the four sons of Herod the Great who had died. Remember when Herod the Great died, he divided his kingdom among four sons and they each became Tetrarchs. Herod Antipas was one of those and even though Jesus had never met Herod, he was well acquainted with Herod. Herod Antipas was the one who had had John the Baptist beheaded for preaching out against Herod for taking his brother's wife. So Jesus knew about Herod called him that Herod that fox and a Herod was equally interested in Jesus, especially his miracles. So he gladly sought Jesus thought maybe he'd perform some tricks for him.
Look in verses 11 and 12. And Herod with his soldiers after treating him with contempt and mocking him, dressed him in a gorgeous robe and sent him back to Pilate. This was a joke to Herod he said, "Let's have a little fun with Jesus". We'll put a robe around him, put a sector in his hand, put a crown on his head and send him back to my rival Pilate and say, thanks, but no thanks. You handle this. Bible says in verse 12: now our Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day for before they had been at enmity with each other. They hated each other. They'd been political rivals, but what united them that day was their hatred for the Lord, Jesus Christ. He sends him back to Pilate and that begins the final trial of Jesus.
We're now at about 7:30 on Friday morning before the crucifixion at nine o'clock. Remember, Pilate is at the praetorian. He's probably holding the trial outside in the courtyard because it's not just the Sanhedrin there it's for throngs of Jews who are there too to listen to this. Look at verse 13. And Pilate summoned the chief priest and the rulers and the people and said to them, "You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion and behold having examined him before I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against him? Nor his Herod for he sending that to us and behold nothing deserving death has been done by him. I therefore will punish him and release him. We'll give him a flogging. And that that'll be the end of it. Not according to the people, they would have none of that".