Jerry C. Brewer
The gamut of human weakness and strength may be found in the characters who were present at, and/or involved in, the crucifixion of our Lord. A study of their traits can be profitable and aid in our introspection as we consider our devotion—or lack thereof—to the Lord. Some of them were faithful to Him, while others denied Him, forsook Him, were calloused toward him, or simply indifferent to His ordeal. Consider these:
The name of Judas Iscariot is a synonym for “traitor.” As an apostle—the closest of Jesus’ associates—Judas had spent three years with Him, hearing His teaching, witnessing His miracles, observing His intolerance of religious error, and His love for all with whom He came into contact. But Judas was covetous, and a thief (John 12:3-5), and allowed his love of money to betray the Lord. For 30 pieces of silver, Judas led the mob to Jesus in the garden and betrayed Him (Matt. 26:14-15; Luke 22:47-48).
How many Christians today betray the Lord for love of money? Such persons follow Christ, as Judas did, but are secretly wedded to mammon and the things of this world. They will fellowship error in the church if it means money in their pockets. They will betray the Lord for a dollar fear the loss of funds for their preaching schools. Yes, the church has today has traitors like Judas, who betray the Lord for money.
When Judas betrayed the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, His apostles fled for their lives. “And they all forsook him and fled. And there followed him a certain young man having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:50-52).
Boldly proclaiming their love for Jesus, cowards today forsake Him when confronted with a crisis. I once knew an elder who resigned, rather than withdraw fellowship from a reprobate. That man was not fit to be an elder. He forsook the Lord when trouble arose. Yes, there are many cowards among us who choose flight instead of fighting the good fight of faith. And like the physical nakedness of the young man, flight from the Lord leaves one spiritually naked.
The False Accusers
The instigators of the crucifixion were not irreligious reprobates, but the religious establishment of the land. Their hatred of Jesus and everything He taught stemmed from their covetous positions of power. They feared their loss of power and wanted Jesus dead. Fear of losing their prestige and position blinded them to the truth. They admitted that Jesus worked miracles, but adamantly refused to accept His claims (John 11:47-48).
The Sanhedrin paralleled today’s denominational world. The “reverends,” “pastors,” “fathers,” and “rabbis” of the religious world have exalted positions in the eyes of their followers. Recent revelations of Catholic priests sexually abusing children decades ago illustrate their power and arrogance over their followers. So-called “Protestant Pastors” revel in their positions of power and the money those positions bring them, and they, too, have been known to abuse young children as the Catholics did. Other than Islam, the denominational industry is the wickedest system under the sun.
Like the Sanhedrin, denominational preachers may acknowledge the truth, but deny and pervert it. Baptist preachers read, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), then deny that baptism has anything to do with salvation. Methodist preachers can read, “…buried with him in baptism, wherein ye are also risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12), then sprinkle water on a person and call it “baptism.” Mormons give away copies of the Bible, then deny that the faith was, “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), by calling Joseph Smith’s book, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
If denominational preachers were as concerned with the truth as they are with their positions of power and prestige, they would preach it as it is revealed. But if they did that, the worldly power and money they gain by deceiving people would be gone. And they fear that as much as the Sanhedrin feared their loss of power because of Jesus.
Jesus’ accusers sought false witnesses against Him, but could find none (Matt. 26:59-60). Then, at the last, they brought two witnesses who twisted Jesus’ words into a lie. At the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was accosted by the Jews and asked for a sign of His authority to do what He did (John 2:18). His answer was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Blinded to His claims and authority, they said the temple took 46 years to build and asked, “…wilt thou rear it up in three days” (v. 20). But Jesus spoke of his resurrection and “temple of his body” (v. 21). It was this statement that was twisted and used against him to the advantage of the Sanhedrin.
Likewise, denominational preachers twist and pervert the word of God to their advantage. They refer to denominations as “branches” of the church, twisting John 15:1-6 as their “proof.” Jesus’ meaning is clear in that passage. He had no reference to denominations but to individuals—“If a man (not a denomination) abide in me.”
As did the Sanhedrin, denominational preachers falsely accuse gospel preachers of being “unloving” and “judgmental” when we preach the truth. They lie and call us “Campbellites” when not a single faithful Christian ever claimed that name, and accuse of being “cultists.”
Without authority to carry out the death penalty, the Sanhedrin assessed it against Jesus and then took him to Pilate. They knew their charge of blasphemy was not punishable by death under Roman law, so they lied again and changed the charge against Jesus to sedition. Again, they lied about the charge against Him. Answering a question from the Jews about paying tribute to Caesar, He had replied, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Ignoring His words, their charge to Pilate was that, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying himself that he is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). Then these Jews, who had nothing but absolute hatred for Rome, told Pilate, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend” (John 19:12), and, “We have no king but Caesar” (v. 15).
Yes, the Sanhedrin is alive and well today. It still falsely accuses, perverts God’s word, lies, and deceives, in the guise of denominational “Christianity.”
The Compromising Politician
Pontius Pilate has gone down in history as an example of moral cowardice—a politician who would rather compromise for his personal gain that to do what is right. The Sanhedrin accused Jesus of sedition, “saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). When Pilate asked Him, “Art thou a king,” Jesus answered, “Thou sayest it” (Luke 23:3), which was an affirmative answer. All four of the gospel accounts have this same question and answer. However, John’s account gives a fuller explanation. In that account, Jesus explained the difference between His kingdom and those of the men. “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
After that exchange, Pilate went out and told Jesus’ accusers, “I find no fault in him at all” (John 18:38). But Pilate was concerned with his position in the Roman government. The Emperor did not take kindly to an underling who could not keep the peace, and Pilate feared an uproar if he refused to have Jesus killed. However, on the other hand, he could find no legal justification for executing the Lord. That’s when he offered a compromise.
At the Passover, it was customary for the Romans to free any prisoner the Jews desired, so Pilate offered them a choice. Should he release Jesus, or Barabbas? (Matt. 27:15-18). They, of course, chose Barabbas and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Probably knowing their answer, Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ”? (Matt. 27:22). They repeated their demand for Christ’s death. Once more, Pilate feebly protested,
“Why, what evil hath he done”? (Matt. 27:23). Matthew records that this answer brought a tumult, and that Pilate, seeing that reason would not prevail, “…took water, and washed his hands before the multitude saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Matt. 27:24). Rather than do what was right and risk fierce opposition, Pilate ordered Jesus to be put to death. There are Pilates among us today who, knowing the right course to take, would rather appease their crowd of friends and compromise the truth for political gain.
Other Pilates are legion in the church—members who want a watered-down gospel in order not to offend their friends. One church in western Oklahoma fired its preacher for calling denominational names. A family in that church operated a grocery store and would rather have had the gospel compromised than to lose business. The list could go on and on, but these examples will suffice to demonstrate that the spirit of Pilate thrives in the church today.
A Concerned Observer
We have no idea what the character of Pilate’s wife was, but we do know that she tried to dissuade her husband from crucifying Jesus. “When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matt. 27:19). We are told neither the dream, nor its source, but we know that she called Jesus a “just man.” She was concerned that justice be done, but Pilate did not heed her entreaty.
A Man Whom Christ Saved
Pilate tried to compromise and gave the Jews a choice of releasing Jesus or Barabbas. “Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?” (Matt. 27:21). “And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: (who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) …And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23: 18-19, 25). It is ironic that the man whom Pilate released was a convicted seditionist—the false charge the Jews leveled against the innocent Jesus.
Barabbas’ life was distinguished by sin. Matthew 27:16 calls him a “notable prisoner” and Mark records that he had made insurrection against Rome and committed murder (Mark 15:7). John records that he was a robber John 18:40). You’ll not find a man more worthy of death than the felon Barabbas. He was imprisoned and marked for execution for his crimes, but he was also eternally lost because of his sinful life (Rom. 6:23). This lost man stood only a few feet from Christ. He was so near the Lord, yet he was still lost, like so many today who know what the Bible teaches concerning salvation in Christ, but who never come to Him in obedience. The name ”Barabbas” is a compound word. The prefix Bar means “son of” and the word abba is the Aramaic word for “father.” His name, then, is a generic term and literally means “Son of Father.” As Jesus died in the place of this man, so He died for all who are the sons of fathers.
Barabbas was a man unloved by mankind. He was a violent criminal and an outcast, a rebel and troublemaker who was under the sentence of death. Even the world has little affection for its own. The world is selfish and quickly drops a man whose value to them is gone. Millions of people today are in the shoes of Barabbas—unloved and unappreciated by the world, but loved by God. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Yes, God loved Barabbas as He loves all mankind. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). When Jesus died that day in the place of Barabbas, He died for all of us whom Barabbas represented, and though Barabbas was unloved by others, God loved him, as He loves all of us.
Of all the people in Jerusalem on that day, Barabbas had the best opportunity to understand Christ’s atoning sacrifice. When Barabbas was released, he was not only saved from physical death, but he represented all who are released from the guilt and consequences of sin when they believe in the Lord (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3) and are baptized into Him (Acts 2:38). Barabbas could have accompanied John and the women to the cross, but the door of history slams shut without further mention of this poor wretch’s name. Pilate nods, the guards unlock Barabbas’ chains, they clang to the pavement and he dashes into the milling crowd. The condemned is free, Christ is beaten, and the rough cross is thrust upon Him. Friends, you are Barabbas. What will you do? Flee with your guilt, or obey Him who died in your place? Only you can decide.