The Actors in a Momentous Tragedy
Matthew 27:11-31
And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Are you the King of the Jews? And Jesus said to him, You say.…

The scene is laid in Jerusalem, in the palace of the Roman governor. The occasion is the trial of the Lord Jesus for his life. The whole human race and all the ages are interested. Behold -


1. "Now Jesus stood before the governor.

(1) But who is this Jesus? Immanuel! The Creator and Upholder of all things, mysteriously enshrined in human nature.

(2) Then what a miracle of condescension is here! The stoop was wonderful from the throne of glory to the manger of Bethlehem. But what a marvel that he should submit to be arraigned before a mortal!

(3) The condescension will be set in its strongest light by a grand reversal of this scene. He wilt yet appear as Judge of all. Pilate will then have to answer at his bar. The accusers also will then have to give account of their accusations.

(4) We shall all do welt to keep that solemnity evermore in mind (see Psalm 50:3, 22).

2. Listen to his confession.

(1) To implicate him with the Romans, he is accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews (see Luke 23:2). He shrinks not from the avowal without explanation or qualification. He is King over Jews and Romans, over angels and devils, over heaven, earth, and hell.

(2) But he explains the spiritual nature of the kingdom he came there to establish (see John 18:33-37). While asserting his royalty without qualification, he takes care that Pilate should not proceed it, ignorance upon the malicious suggestions of the priests.

(3) Caesar, then, evidently, had nothing to fear from Jesus. In the face of this good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13) the accusation was utterly broken down.

3. Mark his silence.

(1) When accused of the chief priests he answered nothing. There was nothing to refute. Lo, here the dignity of innocence!

(2) This might well astonish Pilate, that One whose life was sought by charges so manifestly false should not utter a word to repel them. It was a new thing in the experience of the governor. Such conduct plainly showed that Jesus was no common person.

(3) To Pilate still he answers nothing. The written Word, like the Lord, does not accept the challenge of the unbeliever. It leaves every man to work out his own conviction, as it leaves him to work out his own salvation.

(4) Innocence is its own vindication. It can afford to wait for justice. Hence we must not render railing for railing (see 1 Peter 2:23).


1. The leaders were the rulers of the Jews.

(1) They were those hypocrites whose enormities Jesus had so unsparingly rebuked in his preaching. Of this hypocrisy they never repented, but nursed their resentment against him.

(2) They had vindicated the truth of the account he gave of them, by the manner in which they proceeded against him.

(a) In their plot to destroy him.

(b) Their bribery of Judas.

(c) The indecent haste in which they gathered the council in the night.

(d) Their false accusation against him of blasphemy.

(3) They vindicated it still in their proceeding. In accusing him before Pilate they proceed under a new accusation. They artfully concluded that the charge of sedition would be that by which the Roman governor might be moved. Rank, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is no security against rascality.

2. The multitude were under their inspiration.

(1) They are moved by them to clamour for Barabbas.

(a) At the Paschal Feast, which commemorated the release of the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt, it became a custom, probably of Roman origin, to release some criminal (see Matthew 26:5). At our gospel Paschal Feast sinners are liberated from the bondage of sin

(b) In accordance with this custom, Pilate gave them the option of releasing Barabbas, a notable offender, guilty at once of treason, murder, and felony (see Luke 23:19; John 18:40), or Jesus. Note: Barabbas was really guilty of the particular crime of which they falsely accused Jesus (see Mark 15:7). Here, then, is the choice between good and evil, between which every man has to decide.

(c) They preferred Barabbas. "Not this man, but Barabbas!" is still the cry of every one who hates good and loves evil. Herein the Jews violated their Law, which inflicts death "without mercy" upon criminals (see Hebrews 10:28).

(d) How their injustice here proclaims the innocency of Jesus! The guilty Barabbas thus released that Jesus might die, was a fitting representation of that countless multitude of pardoned sinners to whom his death brings everlasting life.

(2) The multitude, moved by the rulers, demand the crucifixion of Jesus. They did this against reason. They did it against the expostulation of Pilate. What an opportunity they had of defeating the purposes of the rulers! They fatally preferred the evil to the good.

(3) They are moved to take the guilt of his blood upon them.

(a) This was intended to indemnify Pilate, who wavered between justice and expediency. It is a bold undertaking to be bound for a sinner to the Almighty. None but Christ can effectually bear another's sin.

(b) But they shared Pilate's guilt by sharing his sin.

(c) They cruelly involve their children also; and without limiting the terrible entail. By this act they renounced that ancient charter, "I will be a God to thee and to thy seed." Wicked men are the natural enemies of their own children.

(4) How dreadfully this imprecation was verified! Within forty years they suffered with singular resemblance to the manner in which they caused Jesus to suffer. Josephus says, "When they [the Romans] had scourged them [the Jews], and tormented them before death all manner of ways, they crucified them over against the wall of the city." He proceeds to describe the horrors that he witnessed, and says they were crucified by Titus, five hundred in a day, till "room was wanting for crosses, and crosses for bodies."


1. He was convinced of the innocency of Jesus.

(1) His good sense showed him that nothing was proved against him. The best men often have been accused of the worst crimes. He saw that "envy" had instigated the rulers. This is worse than hatred; for it is hatred without a cause. Hatred presumes the imputation of a fault, but envy acknowledges an excellence. The eye of the ruler was evil because Jesus was good.

(2) In this judgment he was confirmed by his wife's dream. It was clearly a Divine testimony to the innocence of Jesus. It was probably of such a nature as to fill her with apprehensions of the consequences of her husband's consenting to the death of Jesus (cf. Genesis 20:3). The "suffering" of Pilate's wife on this account was creditable to her conscience. Tradition calls her Claudia Procula, and she is canonized in the Grecian Church. Note: This reference to Pilate's wife marks the time of the event, and proves the veracity of the narrative, for we learn from Tacitus that in the reign of Tiberius the wives of governors had permission to attend them in the provinces.

(3) He therefore sought to release Jesus. He declared that he "found no fault in him." In naming such a wretch as Barabbas as the alternative to Jesus, in the release at the feast, he hoped to secure that of Jesus. He pleaded with the multitude against their clamour for the blood of Jesus.

2. Yet he sacrificed justice to expediency.

(1) He knew that Tiberius was jealous and sanguinary, and he feared the malignity of the Jews. Philo describes Pilate as "naturally inflexible, rigid, and self-willed." But he had already had to contend with two insurrections of the Jews, viz. when he attempted to bring the Roman standard into Jerusalem, and when he applied the wealth of the sacred treasury to secular uses.

(2) He ought never to have appealed to the people; but he loved power rather than justice. He was prepared to do unscrupulous things rather than risk his procuratorship, if not his liberty or life. There are occasions in every life to test character.

(3) He would fain relieve himself of his responsibility. He tried to devolve it upon Herod (see Luke 23:5, etc.). He then tried to devolve it upon the people (ver. 24). No ceremony of washing the hands can free them from the stains of blood guiltiness. To protest innocence, while practising crime, is to sin against conscience. "Sin is a brat nobody is willing to own" (Henry). The priests threw it upon Judas; Pilate now throws it upon them. "See ye to it."

(4) Still God finds it at the sinner's door (see Acts 4:27). Not long after this, Pilate was deprived of his office through the accusations of that very people, and, being banished to Gaul, ended his life by suicide.


1. They were in the pay of Caesar. They were by their profession jealous of the honour of their master. But there is a King of kings, to whom subjects of earthly sovereigns owe the first allegiance. In mistaken zeal:

2. They mock the royalty of Jesus.

(1) They invest him with a scarlet robe, in derision, as though he wore the crimson or purple of kings (cf. Mark 15:17; John 19:2). They crown him with plaited thorns. The frail reed is made to serve as his sceptre (cf. Matthew 11:7; Psalm 45:6).

(2) In this character they pay him insolent homage. They spat upon him, as he had been before abused in the high priest's hall (see Matthew 26:27). They smote him with the reed, making his ensign of mock royalty an instrument of cruelty.

(3) The soldiers seem to have taken their cue from Herod (see Luke 23:11). It was ordained that the contempt of men should in all this signally confess the truth of God.

(4) The evangelists record no word of Christ's during these tortures. He sustained them with unresisting submission (see Isaiah 53:7). How completely is he left alone! The Jews persecute him, Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, the rest forsake him; and now the Roman is with his enemies. No plot could have been better contrived to show the moral grandeur of a hero, not braving but enduring the accumulated wrongs of an evil world with the dignity of meekness. - J.A.M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.

WEB: Now Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said to him, "So you say."

Pontius Pilate
Top of Page
Top of Page