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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 285. Jesus before Pilate.—Christ’s Kingdom notof this World.”

The procurator, Pontius Pilate, a representative of the rich and corrupt Romans of that age, acted throughout the case in accordance with his well-known character. An enemy to the Jews, he was glad of an opportunity to vex and mock them. But, on the other hand, his administration had been marked by many acts of arbitrary injustice, and his evil conscience feared an accusation from the Jews, such, indeed, as subsequently wrought his downfall. Care for his own security, therefore, led him to avoid giving them any handle against him on this occasion; and he was by no means inclined to sacrifice his own interests to those of innocence and justice. With all his disposition to save a man guiltless of political crimes, and whose zeal he perhaps himself acknowledged to be well-meant, it was no part of his character to risk personal or political objects in such a cause.

The Sanhedrim, in delivering Jesus up to Pilate as “a disturber of the public peace,” expected that he would be satisfied with their recognition of the Roman authority, and lend his power, without further inquiry, to the execution of their decree. But Pilate, seeing no grounds for immediate acquiescence, demanded a more particular accusation. As he had heard of no disturbance produced by Jesus, the statement made by the deputies of the Sanhedrim appeared by no means credible; and, suspecting that religious disputes were at the bottom, he wished to get rid of the whole affair, and told them “to take him, and judge him according to their law.” The deputies understood his meaning. But to treat the case as a purely ecclesiastical one, and inflict only a corresponding penalty on Jesus, was not what they desired. Their desire and wishes were distinctly expressed in their reply: “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”

The procurator thought it necessary, therefore, to enter upon the political accusation, although he believed it to be unfounded; and said to Jesus, not without mockery, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” To this question Christ could give neither an express affirmative nor an express negative: in the religious sense, the answer must be “Yes;” in the political, “No.” He, therefore, asked Pilate, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself (i. e., inquiring whether he asked the question in the Roman sense, and thought, with reference to the rights of the state, that Christ was liable to the accusation of claiming to be “king”), or did others tell it thee of me?” Pilate answered that he did nothing more than repeat the accusation brought by the Jews. And Jesus answered; “My kingdom is not of this world” (not worldly in its nature, its instruments, or its conflicts). He proved its unworldly character by the means he used in founding it: “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight,” &c.; “but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

The very words in which Christ denied that he was king in a worldly sense, implied that in another sense he certainly claimed to be both a king and the founder of a kingdom. He then defined more exactly the sense in which he was both: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into this world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” It followed that He could be recognized as King, and the nature of his kingdom be understood by those only who were susceptible of receiving the truth: “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” This was, at the same time, a summons to the conscience of Pilate himself. But the procurator—a type of the educated Roman world, especially of its higher classes, lost in worldly-mindedness, and conscious of no higher wants than those of this life—had no such sense for truth. “What is truth?” was his mocking question. “Truth is an empty name,” he meant to say.

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