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Pilate Appeals to the Divine Court

Jan 08, 2015

If Pilate had set Jesus free, the chief priests would have sent word to their contacts in Rome to accuse Pilate of setting free a man who had claimed to be King of Judea. The last thing Pilate wanted was to draw attention to himself during the investigation into the conspiracy of Sejanus. Thus Pilate was literally blackmailed into giving Jesus into the hands of the chief priests and consenting to His death.

However, Matthew 27:24, 25 records how Pilate washed his hands according to divine law in order to claim innocence of the crime that he knew was about to be committed.

24 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

This is, perhaps, the passage causing the most contention among the Jews today. Some years ago, when Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, was released, the uproar was so great that the editors did not translate this passage for people to read on the screen. It remained hidden in the Aramaic language being spoken.

It is not in my authority under God to alter Scripture or even to disagree with it. Ivan Panin’s Numeric New Testament includes it, showing that to remove it would disrupt the numerical patterns in this gospel. Hence, I have no reason to believe that this passage ought to be excluded from Matthew’s gospel. The real issue is whether or not people agree with Matthew’s account. The Jewish leaders are offended by the idea that they rejected the true Messiah and crucified Him, so they resist the notion that they should go before the divine court with humble repentance and reverse this self-imposed curse.

Pilate Washes His Hands

As for Pilate’s actions, it is plain that he had studied the law of God to some extent and knew what to do in this case. When a man was killed near a town, and there were no witnesses to testify against the murderer, the people were to bring to that location a heifer that had not been used to plow fields and break its neck (Deuteronomy 21:1-4). In essence, as with all the sacrifices, this unsolved crime legally placed the blame on the Messiah, who was to pay the ultimate penalty for all sin.

Apparently, Pilate was familiar with this law, which Moses established at the end of his fifth speech. Deuteronomy 21:6-9 says,

6 And all the elders of that city which is nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley; 7 and they shall answer and say, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it. 8 Forgive Thy people Israel whom Thou hast redeemed, O Lord, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Thy people Israel.” And the bloodguiltiness shall be forgiven them. 9 So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.”

Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. In washing his hands, he applied the divine law to his own situation in front of the entire crowd that was calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. In essence, he was saying, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it.” This law was one example of cases where the earthly courts were inadequate in dispensing true justice, making it necessary to appeal a case to the divine court. In such cases, those on whom suspicion of guilt rested were to take an oath of innocence. God would then absolve the innocent ones, but if any were guilty, God would judge him for blasphemy and perjury.

The law originally applied to the people in a town in Israel, but Pilate himself took the oath of innocence. Following his lead, the crowd (acting like the townspeople) took the responsibility for Jesus’ death. Whether or not they knew what they were doing is not the issue. The issue is that they appeared before the divine court and took full legal responsibility for their actions, believing (as their leaders had told them) that their actions were justified.

God has provided a way to do justice in every case. The earthly courts were to handle most cases, but God knew that there would always be cases where justice was not served. There may be no witness, or false witnesses, or corrupt judges, or judges who sentence people according to the unjust laws of men. Whatever the case, whenever a man believes that he has been treated unjustly in the courts of men, he has the option of simply forgiving or of appealing his case to the divine court.

In Jesus’ case, Caiaphas pronounced Jesus guilty of blasphemy, assuming ahead of time that Jesus was not the Messiah. Hence, when he adjured Jesus, and when Jesus spoke the whole truth, Caiaphas assumed that Jesus lied before the divine court. If he had followed the law of God, Caiaphas would have known that by adjuring Jesus he was appealing the case to the divine court already. In the absence of more witnesses, he should have left the matter in the hands of God for judgment, for the earthly court was incapable of judging this matter.

The earthly court could not convict anyone of a crime apart from two or three witnesses—not even if the accused man were to testify against himself. When the Urim and Thummim were used to expose Achan’s sin (Joshua 7:16-18), they could not pass sentence upon him without first obtaining the evidence by digging up the gold, silver, and Babylonian garment (Joshua 7:22). Without corroborating evidence, one’s self-incriminating testimony was only a single witness and could not be used in the earthly court to convict anyone. Earthly courts require two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15).

In the absence of hard evidence that bore witness to the crime, the whole matter would have to remain in God’s hands for judgment. But Caiaphas did not do this. In the absence of witnesses other than Jesus’ own testimony, the earthly court was incapable of judging this matter, and so he should have left the matter in the hands of God for judgment.

Instead, Caiaphas chose to condemn Jesus, and then he sent Him to Pilate. Pilate’s response, after many fruitless protests, was to wash his hands and put the matter into God’s hands. To wash one’s hands was not merely to absolve one’s guilt but to appeal the case to the divine court, saying, “This court is incapable of dispensing proper justice in this matter.”

It is interesting that Pilate applied the divine law, while Caiaphas did not. In so doing, Pilate found forgiveness according to the law in Deuteronomy 21:8, but the chief priests and the people condemned themselves.

The Heifer

The heifer in Deuteronomy 21:3 prophesied of Jesus Christ in the same manner that we see in Numbers 19:2, where the ashes of the red heifer were to be used to purify those who had touched a dead body or who had been healed of leprosy. These ashes were kept on the top of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was crucified “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:11-13). The term “outside the camp” meant 2,000 cubits outside the city wall, which placed the location at the top of the Mount.

In the overlaying of types and shadows, we see that Jesus was to be the Passover Lamb, “an unblemished male” (Exodus 12:5). A heifer, however, was a female. Male animals were sacrificed for the sins of the leaders (Leviticus 4:22, 23) and females for the common people (Leviticus 4:27, 28). On that day Jesus was both the Passover Lamb and the Red Heifer in order to cover all of the people.

Pilate’s act of washing his hands identifies Jesus with the heifers in the law, since it was a heifer that was killed on behalf of sins of injustice unresolved by earthly courts.

The Mocking Soldiers

Luke says nothing of the scourging and mocking that Jesus had to endure that day. All of the other gospel writers speak of this, however. Matthew 27:28-31 says,

28 And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after weaving a crown [stephanos, “wreath”] of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head.

They dressed Jesus in royal robes, put a crown on His head, and a scepter in His right hand. And so, even as Ishmael had mocked Isaac many years earlier (Genesis 21:9), so also did the children of the flesh mock Jesus. Paul says in Galatians 4:24 that Hagar represented the earthly Jerusalem in the biblical allegory, while Ishmael represented the fleshly children of Jerusalem—i.e., the Jews, who considered Jerusalem to be their “mother.”

It appears that this mockery was done by the Roman soldiers and that this took place inside the Praetorium (Matthew 27:27). It is doubtful that the temple guards would have entered the Praetorium just before Passover. Nonetheless, the prophetic type is fulfilled here, because all naturally-born men are “children of the flesh.” Paul says in Romans 9:6-8,

6 … For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

Many have tried to twist Paul’s words in order to retain their belief that their fleshly genealogy from Abraham determines whether or not they are “children of God.” But Paul interprets the story of Isaac and Ishmael as an allegory (Galatians 4:24). Though the original story was literal history, the application to us under the New Covenant is allegorical. The children of God are not physical descendants of anyone, but are those who are begotten of God.

The flesh originally was supposed to manifest in earth that which is in heaven. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God. However, when sin entered the world, the flesh began to mock the spirit. In other words, the likeness was perverted and distorted. This is, I believe, the revelation of the mockery that occurred after Jesus’ trial, which was also prophesied by Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac. Hence, first the chief priests held a mockery of a trial, and then the soldiers mocked Jesus as well. This exposes the absurdity of sinful flesh in its attempt to act in the likeness of God.


This is the 133rd part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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