MATTHEW 27:11-14
Pp Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-32

Antonia Fortress
The three charges against Jesus
Are You the King of the Jews?

Although Mtw 27:3-10 has added a parenthesis into the general flow of the narrative, I’ve already noted that the implication is that the final movements of Judas appear to have taken place around this time even though it would seem to be impossible to have taken place immediately following Mtw 27:2 where the chief priests disappear from the Temple Courts to Pilate but then magically reappear in Mtw 27:3 when they should be standing before Pilate accusing Jesus (Mtw 27:12).

Nevertheless, the positioning of the story of Judas first fits in well here but Mtw 27:11 should be taken as immediately following on from Mtw 27:2 where Jesus is led away from the Temple Courts to the Fortress of Antonia on the north-west tip of the Temple enclosure (Mtw 27:2, Mark 15:1, Luke 23:1, John 18:28)

The time of day is possibly shortly after sunrise but probably not after the first hour of the day for all the events to have taken place which the Gospels record. The main event which would have taken up significant time would have been the journey across Jerusalem to the western edge of the city where Herod’s Palace was situated (Luke 23:6-12) but even this wouldn’t have taken a significant amount of time and, in 1986 when I visited the city, even a gentle stroll from the site of the Wailing Wall (the western flank of the Temple Mount) to the Jaffa gate where the Palace is located took us only some twenty minutes stopping to look into a few shops (and I’m sure they didn’t do that on this Friday - the distance is not more than 800 metres). However, see my comments on the Antonia Fortress below where I’ve shown from Josephus that there was a royal residence within the fortress that could have been used by Herod that Passover.

The time problem has to be in the back of the commentator’s mind throughout these events leading up to the crucifixion for Mark 15:25 states that

‘ was the third hour, when they crucified Him’

meaning not that three hours had elapsed but that it was during the third hour of the day. If 6am is taken as the beginning of the first hour which runs until 7am when the second begins, the third hour would run from 8-9am and not, as we would suppose with our western view of time keeping, from 9-10am.

A word needs to be said about the chronology of the four parallel passages (Mtw 27:11-14, Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-32) as this is one of the more difficult events which seems to seriously hinder most attempts at a harmony (a broad overview of the chronology of the passages leading up to the crucifixion can be found here).

John 18:28-32 should be taken as occurring wholly first before there’s a break and the other events in the Synoptic Gospels takes place. This represents a preliminary investigation by Pilate and, when I read it, I can’t help but think that the Governor seems to be just a little bored by their approach - perhaps it’s just my imagination but it appears as if he’d rather not get involved in their Jewish concerns and tries to dismiss the case before he’s had a chance to listen to the charges. He certainly knew that the Jewish leaders had something brewing because of their request the previous night for the Roman cohort and their chiliarch which were sent out to assist in the arrest of Jesus (John 18:12).

It’s Pilate who comes out to see them, however, so that the Jews might be able to continue celebrating the seven day festivities by remaining ceremonially clean (John 18:28 - see Appendix 2 on my Passover web page for information about the correct way to interpret this statement and its context both in Scripture and the Mishnah).

Then the Jews accuse Jesus in three specific areas (Luke 23:2) following Pilate’s insistence that they judge Him by their own law. They charge Jesus with

‘...perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ a king’ which would have had the effect of pushing Pilate to have to make a decision because the charges, if proven, would have undermined Roman authority over the nation and such an individual would have posed a threat to the security of rule.

So, Jesus is asked by Pilate whether He’s the King of the Jews and Jesus affirms it (Mtw 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3) where the ‘You have said so’ is definitely a confirmation of the statement but may also be more akin to our ‘they’re your words’ and indicate that Jesus was willing to accept the title even though the definition which lay behind them was somewhat different. In each of the three occurrences of this phrase in Matthew’s Gospel (26:25, 26:64, 27:11) such a ‘condition’ may be meant to be included (see below).

The chief priests and elders continue their accusations (Mtw 27:12, Mark 15:3 - Matmor points out that the tense of the phrase indicates that it was a ‘continuous process’) - probably as a reaction to Jesus’ response even though He refuses to directly comment on what they’re saying of Him - Pilate asking Jesus for a response to the charges but receiving nothing (Mtw 27:13-14, Mark 15:4-5).

This doesn’t appear to have been what Pilate was expecting and it seems to throw him off guard for he might have expected either a repudiation of the charges or a verbal assault from the prisoner who would refuse to respect the authority of the Roman Governor. Instead he’s met with silence and so announces to the religious leaders and their entourage that he deems Jesus to be innocent (Luke 23:4).

The accusations continue, however, and he thinks he’s got rid of having to deal with the problem when he learns that Jesus is a Galilean (Luke 23:5ff). So ends the first hearing before Pontius Pilate with the Roman guards taking their prisoner to where Herod was resident that Passover festival.

Antonia Fortress

I’ve noted above - and on a previous web page - that the destination to which Jesus came was Antonia Fortress but an alternative view is that Pilate was, at that time, resident in Herod’s Palace to the west of the city. There seems no easy way to resolve the issue here and even logical arguments as to where one would have expected the Governor to have been early that morning are in conflict.

We certainly know that there had to be soldiers stationed in Antonia to quell any riots which might have broken out in the Temple for such events were anticipated when nationalistic fervour was at its pitch during those three times of the year (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles).

Two passages in Josephus, however, do hint at the majority of the army being in barracks elsewhere other than at Antonia, Antiquities 20.5.3 being unspecific as to where the army was to come from but certainly giving the final destination as the Fortress (implying that they weren’t normally stationed there) while War 2.15.5 states specifically that

‘Florus [64-66AD in the land] also being desirous to get those places into his possession, brought such as were with him out of the king’s palace, and would have compelled them to get as far as the citadel [Antonia]’

We can be fairly certain that, at this time, most of the army was barracked in the Palace but that doesn’t, unfortunately, make it necessary for Pilate to have been here during the year of the passage in question or that the description of ‘army’ was of a size which precluded their stationing at Antonia by Florus but which was possible thirty years previous to this under Pilate.

The Fortress was so elevated over the Courts that it would have been easy to keep an eye on everything which transpired far below but, because it dominated the skyline on that north-western tip of the Temple, it must naturally have been a reminder to the Jews of the Roman occupation and subjugation of the nation. Edersheim in ‘The Temple’ notes that the two structures were connected

‘ a subterranean passage...and also by cloisters and stairs descending into the northern and western porches of the Court of the Gentiles’

through which troops could very quickly make their way into the area if an uprising occurred (but through which they were probably forbidden to leave the fortress for fear of aggravating the sensitivities of the Jews. Although these passages don’t appear to have been used when Paul returned to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost (Acts 20:16) there was a disturbance in the Temple after some Jews had spotted him there (Acts 21:27-28). Having dragged him out from the Temple, they attempted to kill him before the stationed troops were told that there was civil unrest in the city and the chiliarch (the commander of a cohort) was forced to take troops and stop it by force if necessary (Acts 21:30-33). They may have been unaware that there was a disturbance within the Temple if it had taken place in the Court of Israel and Paul had been dragged out from the area on the southern side which would have partly shielded the view of the soldiers in the Fortress to the north.

What follows seems to be naturally inferring that the place where Paul was being held was Antonia Fortress and that the soldiers had come from here, even though many would place the barracks for the army on the west side in Herod’s Palace. It’s the traditional site of the Fortress, then, that I shall be accepting as the place of the trial before Pilate.

Josephus’ War (5.4.2-4) describes the fortress in some detail and, even though one would have to err on the side of caution in accepting his testimony, even if the half of it was true, it must have been both an impressive architectural building and a fortress that would have withstood even the fiercest of attacks.

Antonia Fortress was completed by Herod early on in his reign (in the fourth decade BC) before he turned his attention to the Temple area and it seems to have remained as built with little alteration until its destruction during the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66AD.

However, when a new enclosure was made for the city of Jerusalem under Herod Agrippa, large ditches were dug to prevent the fortress from naturally joining to the new part of the city which was known as Bezetha (probably the Bethzatha of John 5:2 which the RSV notes may also be rendered as Bethesda or Bethsaida in some of the manuscripts) and the immense retaining and fortification wall had to be scaled down by its builder simply because he feared Roman reprisals if it was interpreted as an attempt to make Jerusalem impregnable that a rebellion against their rule might take place (5.4.2).

His ensuing description of the magnitude of the fortress inherited from Herod the Great needs reading for oneself for not only was it built with a multitude of towers, magnificent rooms and architectural constructions which rivalled that of the Temple, but there were also devices which fed cisterns to collect rainwater for an extended siege and pools for bathing (5.4.3). Edersheim is saying nothing incorrect when he comments that

‘...the towers and the castle of Antonia with its squares, outbuildings and colonnades must have looked almost like a small town on its rocky height’

and Zondervan estimates the E-W length as approximately 490 feet (149 metres) and N-S as 260 feet (79 metres).

The one important note to make from 5.4.4 is that Josephus reports that

‘...the king had a palace inwardly thereto adjoined which exceeds all my ability to describe it...’

and, if this is taken to have been maintained as a royal residence, there might be a case to be made for Herod not being in the Palace on the west side of the city but within Antonia itself and, therefore, under the protection of the cohort of Roman soldiers stationed there. Pilate’s despatch of the prisoner to Herod wouldn’t have been across the city, therefore, but within the complex of Antonia and much more under Roman control than a dash across to the Palace and back as most commentators would make out. Certainly, when Josephus notes that it contained

‘...large bed-chambers that would contain beds for a hundred guests a-piece...’

there doesn’t seem much difficulty on almost ‘losing’ the king in them while the Romans went about their business undisturbed. The question, then, is not just whether Pilate was in the Antonia Fortress or in Herod’s Palace but in which structure Herod was living!

This fortress would have served the Jewish rebels well in their resistance against Rome during 66-70AD had it not been for the fact that it was one of the structures which was destroyed during the initial acts of rebellion, Josephus recording that the fire

‘...began at the tower of Antonia and went on to the palaces and consumed the upper parts of the three towers themselves’

What would have been a possession which would have aided the Jews became a desolated area which undermined the strength of their position - but this was something which, no doubt, the Romans were immensely pleased about. Titus pitched his encampment here, though, and attacked the Temple from the fortress area.

The above description is taken mainly from Josephus and, though he notes that the strength and impregnability of the fortress was increased during the time of Agrippa when he expanded the area enclosed by the new city walls, it seems unlikely that much in the way of alteration took place to the inherited structure.

Any strengthening which would have taken place would have been completed after the time of Jesus but it seems fairly certain what type of structure would have been there during the incident which is recorded for us in the Gospels for the main building work is attributed in Antiquities 15.8.5 to Herod the Great (c.37-35BC) and, if the Temple complex is anything to go by that remains to the present day, it must, even then, have been magnificent. That a strong fortification was there is undoubtedly true but just how far it went to compare with what Josephus records is impossible to know simply because of the possibility of exaggeration and more so when he concludes his description (War 5.4.4) by noting that

‘ is not possible to give a complete description of these palaces; and the very remembrance of them is a torment to one...’

Archaeology can tell us very little about the area simply because of its destruction and of the continued occupation of the site. NIDBA does mention, however, that excavations in the centre of the fortress

‘...have uncovered a pavement which antedates the time of Herod Agrippa (41-44AD)...composed of large stone slabs 0.9 metres square [amended - he equates the size as being 3 feet but gives the length as 9 not .9 metres - if anyone’s been here, an email to let me know which dimension is correct would be appreciated] and about 0.3m...thick’

Zondervan comments that this pavement lies under the modern day Church of the Sisters of Zion

‘...which seems to have been c.165 feet square [50 metres]...One can also see where the soldiers scratched their game patterns into the pavement, indicating that the soldiers’ barracks were probably nearby’

It’s this pavement which many have taken to be the place called Gabbatha in John 19:13 when Pilate’s final verdict was pronounced on Jesus but Kenyon observes with greater insight, I believe, that

‘...strong grounds have been produced for associating the pavement with the adjacent Hadrianic arch’

and the existence of the graffiti previously mentioned would seem to point towards an army training area - even the place where Jesus was mocked before the Roman cohort garrisoned there (Mtw 27:27-31) - but hardly the place where the Jews gathered before Pilate for its location seems to be fairly clearly in the middle of the fortress. If the Jews were concerned to retain their ceremonial purity for the entire festival of Passover (John 18:28), it seems unlikely that such a place would have been what was used.

The three charges against Jesus
Luke 23:2

We owe it to Luke to discover the charges which the Jewish religious leaders brought against Jesus when He initially stood before Pilate early that Friday morning. Both Matthew and Mark simply summate the accusations into a more general statement (Mark 15:3) that they

‘...accused Him of many things’

while Pilate’s (Mtw 27:11)

‘Are you the King of the Jews?’

is asked as a response to their allegations but which only reflects one of the aspects - but it does represent the aspect of the charge which was taken up by Pilate. As I noted on a previous web page, the word ‘king’ occurs 23 times in the four Gospels which deal with the trial and subsequent execution even when one excludes the word on the lips of those who were deriding Jesus when He’d been crucified. And the title ‘King of the Jews’ occurs 18 times in the NT (Mtw 2:2, 27:11, 27:29, 27:37, Mark 15:2, 15:9, 15:12, 15:18, 15:26, Luke 23:3, 23:37, 23:38, John 18:33, 18:39, 19:3, 19:19, 19:21 [x2]) and is only twice on the lips of Jews who are directly quoting the phrase rather than originating it. It appears, therefore, to have been a purely Gentile description of the Messiah.

The full charge can be read in Luke 23:2 where the religious leaders state that

‘We found this Man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ a king’

The first accusation that Jesus had been found ‘perverting our nation’ is a vague one but it will here carry the meaning of inciting the population to riot. Kittels comments that the charge

‘ the political one that He perverts the people’

while Lukmor cites the Jerusalem Bible’s translation which renders it

‘inciting our people to revolt’

Jesus is attributed as using the word in Mtw 17:17 (He spoke Aramaic in all likelihood but the word is used as a clear meaning of His intent) where He speaks about the generation in which He was ministering as being a perverse one, confused and twisted away from the clear will of God for itself.

A similar charge as found on the lips of the religious leaders at Jesus’ trial is levelled at disciples in the early Church in the city of Thessalonica where the opponents of the message dragged some of the believers before the city authorities (Acts 17:6) and announced that

‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also...’

If such a revolution could be levelled at either Jesus or His disciples - and it only depends what type of definition that you give such a revolution before one would answer that it’s a fitting label - the point wasn’t that any of them were doing anything which was detrimental to mankind and it was more accurate to say that they were turning the world ‘right side up’ than ‘upside down’!

The Greek word is also found on the lips of Ahab in the LXX in I Kings 18:17-18 where he accuses the prophet Elijah of being ‘a troubler of Israel’, an identical phrase in meaning to the religious leaders ‘perverting our/perverter of the nation’.

But the charge, as I’ve noted, was more political than spiritual for Rome would have had no need to get involved in a purely religious and local disagreement unless it impinged on the affairs of State.

It’s also ironic that, having delivered Jesus into the hands of the Romans on a charge of insurrection that they should then go ahead and choose Barabbas who (Mark 15:7)

‘...had committed murder in the insurrection...’

Perhaps, even, there was a hint of fact-finding in Pilate’s offer (which seems to have been a response to a Jewish request - Mark 15:8) to release whichever prisoner they would choose (Mtw 27:17), for it would have been clearly perceivable to the Governor that the population would be the more likely to call for the release of one of their own who hated Roman domination than to cry out for the liberation of Someone who showed no such political ideals. John’s Gospel records that the brevity with which the first three Gospels record the commitment to crucifixion is only a neat summary employed, for there was still a way to go before Pilate gave up trying to save the Prisoner (John 19:1-11).

In one sense, of course, Jesus could have been seen to have been perverting the nation through Jewish eyes for He’d clearly been teaching against the Pharisees’ oral law (Mark 7:1-8, Mtw 9:10-13), though this wouldn’t have been an offence to the Sadducees who seem to have been the predominant religious/political party who brought Jesus to Pilate.

The second accusation is that Jesus was

‘...forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar...’

something which was a total fabrication of the evidence. The Pharisees and Herodians had already tried to entrap Jesus into saying such a thing but had miserably failed only a few days ago in the Temple when they approached Him together (Mtw 22:15-22). If the first charge demonstrated some sort of honesty as applied to themselves but spoken in words which would level a charge that would sound like something different in the ears of the Governor - and thereby attribute some honesty and integrity to the leadership - this accusation undermines their position entirely and there’s little that needs to be said about it.

If the charge was proven true, Jesus could be very clearly have been labelled as having committed treason. Both the first and second charges, however, are generally ignored by Pilate and, as previously noted, it’s only the third which is developed and expounded upon during the subsequent trial. It’s this third charge that Pilate immediately picks up on, asking Jesus the direct question whether He really is the King of the Jews as has been claimed (Mtw 27:11 - the religious leaders would have used the phrase ‘King of Israel’ in preference to the more Gentile one ‘King of the Jews’ in all probability if they had needed to expand their point).

Their words clearly state that the claim of Kingship is not something which had been attributed to Him but which had been found coming from His own lips for the translation of the NT renders it that Jesus was

‘...saying that He Himself is Christ a King’

But Jesus had never made the claim or taken upon Himself the title of ‘King’ even though many had placed it upon Him - for instance, Nathanael (John 1:49), the crowds that were fed by Him when Jesus withdrew from them when He perceived their intentions (John 6:15), the crowds in Jerusalem (John 12:13) and the Magi (Mtw 2:2 - though this would have been outside the contents of their charge).

Neither had Jesus announced Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, publicly even though others had placed that title upon Him - for instance, the Jews (John 7:41), demons (Luke 4:41), Peter (Mtw 16:16) and the disciples (John 6:69).

John 4:25-26 and Mtw 16:16-17 were both instances when Jesus stated who He was to private audiences and weren’t public declarations and, just as important, in Mtw 16:20 He strictly charged them to tell no one that He was the Christ.

Even Jesus’ response to Caiaphas’ question was not a proclamation with a view to people acknowledging His claim (Mtw 26:63-64) but was so phrased to call into question the concept of the label that was being used.

Pilate also realised that Jesus made no claim to be the ‘King of the Jews’ in the manner in which they were applying it to Him when he said to the crowds (Mark 15:12 - my italics)

‘...what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?’

If He’d believed that Jesus was the King, he would have omitted the words entirely (and condemned Jesus immediately as deserving death) and, if He’d believed that Jesus had made the declaration Himself, he would surely have said ‘who calls Himself’? For all the Governor’s faults which we like to attribute him with, at the very least we can see that he knew Jesus was innocent and that the charges were bogus. Even if it had only been out of feelings of hatred towards the religious leadership, Pilate would have loved to have had Jesus at large in the nation, challenging the very people that he was forced to do business with.

The Jews, who hated the dominance and sovereignty of the Imperial Roman state which had been imposed upon them could hardly expect to be believed by Pilate when they claimed that Jesus was a revolutionary aiming to throw off the Roman yoke and liberate the population from its hold - he knew full well that he was the symbol of Roman occupation and that he was hated by them for it.

If anything, they would be working with Him not against Him! It’s with the greatest of suspicions, then, that Pilate hears their case against Him, realising that it’s out of envy that they’re attempting to have Him put to death (Mtw 27:18).

Are You the King of the Jews?
Mtw 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, Luke 23:3

Here we want to look at some of the principles and insights which this passage gives us and not concentrate so much on the literal interpretation of the event.

In one sense, the answer to the question posed by Pilate as to whether Jesus was the King of the Jews could have been answered by Jesus in the negative. Even though the Jews thought of their coming Messiah in terms which supposed His exalted status and the forced submission and subjugation of those who were set in opposition of His will, God’s true King was not to be Sovereign over a people who were not willing to be subject to Him.

Throughout His three and a half year ministry to the nation, the people He’d met had been repeatedly willing, on the whole, to let Jesus be Lord and King over their sicknesses and afflictions - but, when it came to letting Him be the Lord of their lives, it proved to be an entirely different matter.

The leper of Mark 1:40-45 was given clear instructions to show himself to the priest and to obey what Moses had written in the Law but he went out rather and proclaimed what had happened to him, seriously hindering Jesus from moving about openly. The rich young ruler of Mtw 19:16-22 was also committed to doing whatever was required from him until that moment Jesus showed him that his heart was tied up in his riches and that this needed to be challenged and broken. Similarly, the would-be disciples recorded in Luke 9:57-62 seem to have shrunk back from a total commitment to Jesus when the hardships of the Kingdom were made known to them. In short, the question of Jesus in Luke 6:46 to His listeners concerning why they called Him ‘Lord’ and yet didn’t do what He told them is an accurate summary of those things which Jesus seems to have frequently experienced.

And there’s no change in Jesus’ position today, either.

A kingdom is one in which a king reigns over people who subject themselves to the law that issues from the throne or, at least, the ruling authority. Many live ‘in’ kingdoms throughout the world, receiving benefit from the king but don’t actually live lives of obedience to His will. My work colleagues are a good example here for, although they would have the government lower taxes for their own benefit and applaud them when such things are done, they choose to freely live outside the will of that same government by stealing and cheating in ways that they try to justify.

Such are many in the Kingdom of Heaven who receive the riches of the King but who feel that they’re not obligated to also obey the word which comes from the Throne in Heaven. In this sense, therefore, Jesus could have answered truthfully that He wasn’t the King of the Jews for they neither obeyed His teaching nor followed His lead.

However, the Bible also teaches that there will come a day when every knee will bow before Jesus’ throne (Phil 2:9-11), when voluntary submission will be turned into forced submission and that this won’t be indicative of salvation.

Although ‘no’ could have been a honest statement, Jesus chooses to answer with the statement ‘You have said so’, a term which we’ve already seen in Mtw 26:64 to be a simple affirmative response. But the phrase probably means more than this in each of the three places where Matthew records it on the lips of Jesus in his Gospel and always as a response to someone who is opposed to God’s rule in Him. Indeed, the use of the phrase seems to be a way to indicate to the enquirer that there’s something wrong in the presupposition of the question or of its content. Matfran labels the phrase as one of

‘qualified assent’

and this seems to be the bottom line.

Firstly, it occurs in Mtw 26:25 where it serves as the response to Judas’ question as to whether he’s the betrayer where the meaning conveyed is

‘I agree with your words but not with the sentiment of your heart which lies behind the question’

for Judas had been deceitful with his question, trying to bluff his way out of the difficult situation he would have been in had he, knowing he was guilty, remained silent.

In Mtw 26:64, Jesus’ reply to the high priest is more along the lines of

‘I agree with your words but not with your concept of their meaning’

for the high priest had defined his question with the label ‘Son of God’ whereas Jesus responds with ‘Son of man’, thus emphasising ‘humanity enthroned’ as we saw on that web page. Although affirming the question, Jesus nevertheless called into question the meaning which lay behind the words.

So, too, here in Mtw 27:11 (the tense is different in this third usage and has the effect of saying something like ‘You are saying it’ rather than ‘You have said it’. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, any difference in meaning, though) where the meaning is something like

‘I agree with your words but not with your concept of what “kingship” is’

where Mattask comments that the implication is that

‘...Pilate is right when he uses the word...but that Jesus would not use the title Himself in Pilate’s presence because Pilate’s conception of kingship was very different from His own’

The same Greek phrase is used in Jesus’ reply in John 18:37 where it occurs as a response to a similar question but where John has shown that Jesus acknowledges that Pilate pronounces Him a king without going on to confess that the label used by him bears a correct concept within the Governor’s mind. The christian should also be aware how to answer everyone with wisdom as Col 4:6 instructs the believer to

‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one’

for it has to be realised that the words we hear in conversation don’t always convey the meaning that seems to lie behind them. The believer must take care how he or she answers every person who calls them to give an account of themselves. One of those words which can serve the believer very badly is the term ‘Fundamentalist’ and is usually in non-christian culture a derogatory term which can run anywhere between a religious zealot who’s militarily active to further the perceived will of his god to the Bible-bashing individuals who are so loud in their belief that they put off more people than they save.

Admit you’re a Fundamentalist to some, and you’ll be immediately tarnished with the brush of another which bears no resemblance to your sincere belief in Jesus Christ. It’s far better, sometimes, to take a step back and ask for a definition of a word to accurately answer the meaning of the question rather than the words themselves. After all, we don’t have the vocabulary as they did in the first century to answer positively but also express our reservations that the questioner fully understands in what context the answer makes sense!

Finally, Mtw 27:14 and Mark 15:5 record that Jesus made no answer either to the subsequent question of the Governor nor to the accusations which the chief priests and elders were making known (and seen as a fulfilment of Is 53:7, no doubt, where the prophet speaks of the Lord’s servant that ‘He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth’).

His first reply, as we’ve seen above, must have made Pilate wonder at the truth of the charges but, when asked plainly what it was His accusers were saying against Him, Jesus remained silent. Matmor observes that

‘This kind of accusation, alleging crimes that involved the death sentence, would normally have elicited a vociferous response’

so that the calmness demonstrated by silence would have been all the more likely to have made Pilate wonder at the character of the One who was standing before him.

Actsbruce, in a footnote on Acts 25:16, cites part of a speech from the ancient work Civil War 3.54 which announces that

‘The law requires, members of the council, that a man who is on trial should hear the accusation and speak in his own defence before judgment is passed on him’

and the text of the NT verse is also straightforward when it records that Festus (ruling with the same authority and responsibilities as Pilate had done some thirty years previous) stated that

‘ was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defence concerning the charge laid against him’

Both Matfran and Matcar cite an authority who notes that the defendant had three opportunities to answer the charges in Roman law and that, to remain silent on all three occasions was an admission of guilt - but, as Matcar observes rightly, Jesus had already answered when first asked whether He was the King of the Jews and the actual legal situation before Pilate seems to be somewhat confused when an attempt is made to conform it to specific Roman procedure.

The case seems to have been a unique one in which Pilate was using whatever he could think of to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion - he doesn’t appear to have been careful to conform his own actions to that which was expected from him under accepted Roman procedure. As Matmor observes

‘A Roman governor in a province had considerable latitude and was able to pursue justice in almost any way he thought suitable’

But that Pilate expects the charges to be answered shows us that he intended at least giving the prisoner the right of a defence and Jesus’ silence before the Jewish religious leaders’ accusations is a problem, for He’s making no attempt to defend Himself - indeed, the only thing He’d done was to confess the charges as being correct! It’s with an air of relief, therefore, that the Governor learns that He comes from Herod’s jurisdiction so that he can attempt to remove the decision from off his shoulders (Luke 23:6-7) and hastily, I’m sure, despatches him to the king for his verdict on the matter.