The Sixth Hour
“Now, it was the Day of Preparation of the Passover and it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King.’”
This is one of those passages where enemies of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy say, “Aha! See, there is an error!” They go on to say that this is the “Day of Preparation for Passover,” not the Passover itself and that while John records the sentencing as taking place during about the “sixth” hour, Mark records the crucifixion as having taken place at the third hour! Oh my, such a dilemma we are put into if we hold to Biblical inerrancy…well, not really.
First of all, the language of the Day of Preparation is used in the Gospel accounts to speak of the Preparation for the Sabbath (for the Jews, Saturday), not in terms of the Passover (see Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31,42). Thus, as the Passover this year fell on a Friday, it was also the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath…oh my, one objection answered simply by looking at the context.
The second objection has caused a little more consternation amongst commentators. As noted, Mark speaks of the crucifixion as taking place at the third hour (Mark 15:25). Different answers have been given for this from speaking about variant manuscripts that substitute “third” for “sixth” in John’s text to suggestions of scribal changes. Yet, the simplest answer is often the best. One should recall that John is writing at least 30 years after the other Gospel writers had penned their Gospel texts and arguably is familiar with the synoptic accounts. The Synoptics, writing before the destruction of the Temple, when the traditional Jewish sense of marking time was still in active use, chose to use the Jewish method of counting hours from sunrise. John, writing after the destruction of the Temple, when everyone would have been under the Roman system of marking time, used just that — the Roman system of marking time — a system which began marking hours at about midnight. That means that there is about 3 hours of time that will pass from the time that the sentence is uttered by Pilate (6 AM) and the hanging Jesus on the cross (9 AM), but this is not unrealistic as the execution had to be organized and Jesus had to proceed from there to Golgotha bearing the weight of his cross at least part of the way. Carrying such a burden would have taken a strong, healthy man a fair period of time; Jesus, being beaten and stumbling, would have taken considerably longer.
As with most cases, answers are available to every challenge to Biblical inerrancy and most challenges come as a result of surface readings, not being willing to look more deeply into the text.
What is much more important is the dialogue that follows. “Behold your King!” Pilate knows he has lost the chess game with the Chief Priests but he nevertheless wants to get in a final dig. This, though, will be the final rejection of Jesus that these men will make…denying Jesus’ Lordship to their own condemnation. How many in our world today insist, like these Jewish officials, that they have no king but Caesar! Yet, we get ahead. Here, though given as a taunt, we find Pilate speaking truth…Behold the King not only of the Jews, but of all creation. For them, all they saw was a broken and bloody man…one day all mankind will witness the risen and glorious Christ, King of all the universe — a King of power and might — how great the contrast will be, yet how these will find themselves not with him in their power, but under his crushing foot of judgment. Loved ones, there is a call given to each of us, flee to Christ as King while there is still breath in your lungs.
Jesus in the Praetorium
“Then the governor’s soldiers took jurisdiction over him and brought him to the Praetorium where the whole Cohort was gathered.”
“But the soldiers led him inside of the courtyard, that is the Praetorium, and they gathered the whole Cohort together.”
What strikes me about this passage is the number of soldiers present. A Cohort is a tenth of a Legion in Roman terms, which marks the number here at about 500 soldiers. This is the same term that is applied to the band of soldiers that Judas acquired from the priests to arrest Jesus, though those soldiers were most likely part of the Hebrew Temple Guard while these are Romans. One may speculate as to why so many soldiers needed to be present at the flogging of a single man. As Jesus and Pilate had already had a discussion about where Jesus’ Kingdom resided, perhaps Pilate was trying to show Jesus his own earthly kingdom or give Jesus a taste of the Roman kingdom. The number may also have to do with the timing of the event. This is Passover where the city of Jerusalem’s numbers would have swelled greatly. Perhaps he had all the soldiers there so that he could complete his judgment of Jesus. Jesus was being tried as an insurrectionist, so perhaps Pilate wanted to ensure that there would not be any more violence, this time brought on by those supporting Jesus. The answers to these questions we just cannot know on this side of the veil.
There is a significant theological purpose for what happens here, which ought to be noted. This palace or courtyard, known in Roman terminology as a Praetorium, was gentile ground. The Jewish priests had refused to enter these courts for doing so would have made them ritually unclean, and such would have made them ineligible to offer the sacrifices of the Passover that day. But note, in the Old Testament giving of the Passover commands (see Exodus 12), one of the instructions was that the passover lamb was to dwell in the house of those offering the lamb as a sacrifice. Typically this was done for a period of four days, though this was likely not consistently practiced given the prevalence of sellers haunting the streets and temple courts during this time. Nevertheless, here we find Jesus, having spent 4 days in the house of Jerusalem, now entering the house of the gentile — a reminder that the Gospel is not just for the Jewish people, but is for people from far off whom God will bring to himself…Jew and Gentile alike, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember, beloved, that there are no accidents in God’s providence and all things happen for a purpose. Jesus entered into this depth of sorrow for you and for me and for all of the elect through history that are trusting in Him as Lord and Savior. He is our Passover Lamb and we find our hope in Him.