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• To me dost Thou not speak?' The pride of offended dignity peeps out there. He has forgotten that a moment since he half suspected that the prisoner, whom he now seeks to terrify with the cross, and to allure with deliverance, was perhaps come from some misty heaven. Was that a temper which would have received Christ's answer to his question?
But one thing he might be made to perceive, and therefore Jesus broke silence for the only time in this section, and almost the only time before Pilate. He reads the arrogant Roman the lesson which he and all his tribe in all lands and ages need--that their power is derived from God, therefore in its foundation legitimate, and in its exercise to be guided by His will and used for His purposes.
It was God who had brought the Roman eagles, with their ravening beaks and strong claws, to the Holy City. Pilate was right in exercising jurisdiction over Jesus. Let him see that he exercised justice, and let him remember that the power which he boasted that he had' was 'given.' The truth as to the source of power made the guilt of Caiaphas or of the rulers the greater, inasmuch as they had neglected the duties to which they had been appointed, and by handing over Jesus on a charge which they themselves should have searched out, had been guilty of 'theocratic felony.' This sudden flash of bold rebuke, reminding Pilate of his dependence, and charging him with the lesser but yet real 'sin,' went deeper than any answer to his question would have done, and spurred him to more earnest effort, as John points out. He ‘sought to release Him,' as if formerly he had been rather simply unwilling to condemn than anxious to deliver.
IV. So the scene changes again to outside. Pilate
went out alone, leaving Jesus within, and was met before he had time, as would appear, to speak, by the final irresistible weapon which the rulers had kept in reserve. An accusation of treason was only too certain to be listened to by the suspicious tyrant who was then Emperor, especially if brought by the authorities of a subject nation. Many a provincial governor had had but a short shrift in such a case, and Pilate knew that he was a ruined man if these implacable zealots howling before him went to Tiberius with such a charge. So the die was cast. With rage in his heart, no doubt, and knowing that he was sacrificing 'innocent blood' to save himself, he turned away from the victorious mob, apparently in silence, and brought Jesus out once more. He had no more words to say to his prisoner. Nothing remained but the formal act of sentence, for which he seated himself, with a poor assumption of dignity, yet feeling all the while, no doubt, what a contemptible surrender he was making.
Judgment-seats and mosaic pavements do not go far to secure reverence for a judge who is no better than an assassin, killing an innocent man to secure his own ends. Pilate's sentence fell most heavily on himself. If the judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted,' he is tenfold condemned when the innocent is sentenced.
Pilate returned to his sarcastic mood when he returned to his injustice, and found some satisfaction in his old jeer, 'your King. But the passion of hatred was too much in earnest to be turned or even affected by such poor scoffs, and the only answer was the renewed roar of the mob, which had murder in its tone. The repetition of the governor's taunt, "Shall
I crucify your King ?' brought out the answer in which the rulers of the nation in their fury blindly flung away their prerogative. It is no accident that it was 'the chief priests' who answered, “We have no king but Cæsar. Driven by hate, they deliberately disown their Messianic hope, and repudiate their national glory. They who will not have Christ have to bow to a tyrant. Rebellion against Him brings slavery.
AN EYE-WITNESS'S ACCOUNT OF THE
And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified Him, and two other with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am King of the Jews. Pilato answered, What I have written I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments, and made four parts, to every soldier & part; and also His coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted My raiment among them, and for My vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold Thy Son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished : and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.'—JOHN xix. 17-30.
In great and small matters John's account adds much to the narrative of the crucifixion. He alone tells of the attempt to have the title on the Cross altered, of the tender entrusting of the Virgin to his care, and of the two words''I thirst' and . It is finished.' He gives details which had been burned into his memory, such
as Christ's position in the midst' of the two robbers, and the jar of 'vinegar' standing by the crosses. He says little about the act of fixing Jesus to the Cross, but enlarges what the other Evangelists tell as to the soldiers 'casting lots.' He had heard what they said to one another. He alone distinctly tells that when He went forth, Jesus was bearing the Cross which afterwards Simon of Cyrene had to carry, probably because our Lord's strength failed.
Who appointed the two robbers to be crucified at the same time? Not the rulers, who had no such power, but probably Pilate, as one more shaft of sarcasm, which was all the sharper both because it seemed to put Jesus in the same class as they, and because they were of the same class as the man of the Jews' choice, Barabbas, and possibly were two of his gang. Jesus was 'in the midst,' where He always is, completely identified with the transgressors, but central to all things and all men. As He was in the midst on the Cross, with a penitent on one hand and a rejecter on the other, He is still in the midst of humanity, and His judgment-seat will be as central as His Cross was.
All the Evangelists give the title written over the Cross, but John alone tells that it was Pilate's malicious invention. He thought that he was having a final fling at the priests, and little knew how truly his title, which was meant as a bitter jest, was a fact. He had it put into the three tongues in use—Hebrew,' the national tongue; Greek, the common medium of intercourse between varying nationalities; and 'Latin,' the official language.
He did not know that he was proclaiming the universal dominion of Jesus, and prophesying that wisdom as represented by Greece, law and imperial power as represented by Rome, and
all previous revelation as represented by Israel, would yet bow before the Crucified, and recognise that His Cross was His throne.
The “high-priests' winced, and would fain have had the title altered. Their wish once more denied Jesus, and added to their condemnation, but it did not move Pilate. It would have been well for him if he had been as firm in carrying out his convictions of justice as in abiding by his bitter jest. He was obstinate in the wrong place, partly because he was angry with the rulers, and partly to recover his self-respect, which had been damaged by his vacillation. But his stiff-necked speech had a more tragic meaning than he knew, for what he had written' on his own life-page on that day could never be erased, and will confront him. We are all writing an imperishable record, and we shall have to read it out hereafter, and acknowledge our handwriting
John next sets in strong contrast the two groups round the Cross-the stolid soldiers and the sad friends. The four legionaries went through their work as a very ordinary piece of military duty. They were well accustomed to crucify rebel Jews, and saw no difference between these three and former prisoners. They watched the pangs without a touch of pity, and only wished that death might come soon, and let them get back to their barracks. How blind men may be to what they are gazing at! If knowledge measures guilt, how slight the culpability of the soldiers! They were scarcely more guilty than the mallet and nails which they used. The Sufferer's clothes were their perquisite, and their division was conducted on cool business principles, and with utter disregard of the solemn nearness of death. Could callous indifference go