“Thus Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?”
Interestingly, John is the only one of the four Gospel writers that records this question from Pilate. The other evangelists simply record the Jews coming to Pilate and accusing Jesus, but John inserts the proper protocol in this context — that of waiting for the Roman official to address them before they start spewing forth hatred and lies. There is no question that there is a bit of a political dance that takes place with this trial, with the Jews seeking to manipulate Pilate into serving their ends (and thus in their minds, taking the blood of Jesus off of their own hands).
Certainly news of some sort has preceded the Jewish officials to Pilate and his aides have given him some degree of counsel as to the nature of this mob as they bring Jesus to him. The relationship between the Jews and Rome had always been a trying one and there is no question that Pilate had in the back of his mind ways in which he could maneuver this in his favor — or at least in a way that would maintain the status quo. Either way, politics as usual is about to begin.
The sad thing about political maneuvering is that we find it taking place in the church, not just in the broader culture. People forget that the church does not belong to them, but that instead it belongs to Christ Jesus. How folks fall into the trap of using church to meet their personal needs, to achieve their personal ends, or otherwise to build a reputation for themselves rather than to build a reputation for Christ. How often even pastors fall into the trap of tip-toeing over Truth because they fear it will offend or chase away members or visitors to the congregation. All of these things are no better than what we see Pilate and the Jewish officials engaged in — protocol, perhaps is being met, but personal agendas are being sought. May our lives and our churches seek Christ’s will in life, not our own.
“And when dawn came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people deliberated regarding Jesus so that they might put him to death. They bound him and led him away, delivering him to Pilate the governor.”
“And at dawn, immediately the chief priests made deliberations with the elders and scribes and the whole of the Sanhedrin. They bound Jesus and took him away, delivering him to Pilate.”
“And the whole council of them arose and led him before Pilate.”
“Therefore they led Jesus away from Caiaphas to the Praetorium. But as it was dawn, they did not go inside the Praetorium in order that they not be defiled but could eat the passover.”
Do you see the irony of John’s account? Here are the priests and other leaders of the church conducting a secret and illegal trial designed to frame an innocent man being concerned about becoming ritually defiled by entering Pilate’s headquarters. It should not surprise us that Jesus called these men “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). They are concerned with the outward forms but have no regard for the inward spirit that is supposed to be guided by the forms. How often in the Old Testament we find God telling the people how he hated all of their sacrifices — not because the sacrifice was bad, but because they were just going through the motions and performing a ritual, not living a life of devotion.
Though we don’t live lives marked by blood sacrifices and ritual cleanliness any longer, how often it is that we end up acting in the way that these Jewish leaders did. How often we fail to get involved in the lives of those who are hurting because of what others in the community might say about them (or us!). How often we fail to evangelize prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless, or convicts in our midst. Our churches often participate in jail Bible studies and ministries, but how often do we embrace those same people once they have been released from jail? We are often quick to invite new people to church if they are “like us,” but what of those from a different cultural background, skin tone, or socio-economic strata? What do we mean then when we say that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek when we exclude people because of their background? How often we have condemned the hypocrisy of these Jewish leaders and have missed seeing our own hypocrisy?
Thus, it is in the midst of this that the Jews determine that their only solution is to put Jesus to death, and that is exactly what they seek to do by taking Jesus to Pilate. If you were a territory under Roman rule, it was Romans who reserved the right to capital punishment except for the case of blasphemy — hence their striving to convict Jesus of anything remotely close to a blasphemous statement — so it is to Rome they must appeal and thus to Rome they go, in this case in the form of the Roman representative who governed Judea — Pilate.
Tearing Down Temples
“They said, ‘This man said, ‘I have the power to demolish the Temple of God and to rebuild in three days.’’”
“And certain ones arose and they bore false witness about him, saying, ‘We heard him say, ‘I will demolish this temple that was made with human hands and in three days, I will build another that is not made with human hands.’’ But their witness was not in agreement, even in this.”
So, even when false witnesses agree on the big lie, they still can’t get the details in order — such, of course is a standard principle in police investigation when trying to uncover who is lying about what happened — but can you imagine the level of frustration that these Jewish leaders must have been feeling at this point? With every botched false witness their blood-pressure probably rose a few notches and now, when they finally locate people who will testify about the same lie — there are holes between those stories as well. So much for making a staged trial look anything but staged … serves them right!
In terms of the confusion of these lying witnesses, what we find is a classic case of confusing the context — or of combining similar statements of Jesus into one that means something entirely different than what was originally meant in each of the two contexts respectively.
All four Gospels refer to Jesus’ discussion of tearing down the Temple, but John records an entirely different account than do Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In John’s Gospel, we find Jesus cleansing the temple early in his ministry and the Jewish authorities don’t get angry with him for his action, but simply ask for a sign that would show them on whose authority that Jesus cast out the money-changers and sellers. Jesus’ response to their request for a sign is to say: “Demolish this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). What follows is John explaining that Jesus was talking about the temple of his body — hence the sign of Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple would be found when he dies and raises again from the dead. It has nothing to do with the physical temple in Jerusalem, though the Jewish authorities do go away somewhat confused, muttering that it took them 46 years to build the temple. The parables that Jesus tells consistently leave the spiritually blind — blind (Matthew 13:10-17).
The Synoptic Gospels, though, record a different account. In Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, and Luke 19:43-44, Jesus is prophesying the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. This passage is part of what is sometimes referred to as the “Olivet Discourse,” a passage that prophetically looks forward not only to the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but also to the end of times. In these passages, Jesus speaks nothing of a rebuilding — either physical or otherwise, nor does he mention anything about three days.
The interesting thing is that the two accounts do connect theologically, but not in the way that the Jewish authorities are understanding. Indeed, God will send the Roman armies to destroy the physical temple in Jerusalem. This temple was built by those that King Cyrus sent back to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore their cultural home and then it was added to by King Herod the Great in an attempt to win favor with the people. Yet, this is not the “Greater” temple that is prophesied by the prophet Haggai (Haggai 2:9). The Greater Temple is Christ himself, as alluded to by John in the prologue to his Gospel (John 1:14). Thus the temple that the Romans destroyed was meant as a foreshadowing of Christ.
The Temple that the Romans would destroy (not leaving one stone upon another, as Jesus prophesied) was also a place where sacrifices took place. Again, these sacrifices anticipated the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ — their only significant meaning, again, being found in the sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross. Thus, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the need for bloody sacrifices was brought to a close (Hebrews 10:10) and thus the temple no longer served any sacrificial purpose. The Jews, in rejecting Christ, would continue to worship at the shadow instead of worshiping the glorious Son, and thus God, in judgment, sent the Romans to wipe the temple flat to prevent any more sacrifices from being made (His Son is enough!). And, lest later Jews or confused Christians seek to reestablish a sacrificial system on the temple mount, God sent the Muslim Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan to build the Haram ash Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) on the old Temple mount, the well-known “Dome of the Rock” being its central point. The rebuilding of the Jewish temple would first require the demolition of this Muslim holy site, something that is unlikely to take place. Once again, this is God’s design to prevent the Jews or misguided Christians from rebuilding the “shadow” that Christ fulfilled.
Indeed, the two accounts are connected, but certainly not in the way these false witnesses are connecting them…nor perhaps in the way that some Christians connect them today. Nevertheless, this false trial will move forward, witnesses or no, for the end had already been determined not only by the Jewish authorities, but by the almighty plan of God himself.