As if the love of any one who was, and felt, as Peter, could have credited the possibility of what he had been warned of; and, if he had credited it, would, in the first moments of returning flood after the panic of his flight, have remembered that warning, or with cool calculation acted up to the full measure of it! To have fled to his home and shut the door behind him, by way of rendering it impossible to deny that he knew Christ, would not have been Peter nor any true disciple. Nay, it would itself have been a worse and more cowardly denial than that of which he was actually guilty. Peter followed afar off, thinking of nothing else but his imprisoned Master, and that he would see the end, whatever it might be. But now it was chill, very chill, to body and soul, and Peter remembered it all; not, indeed, the warning, but that of which he had been warned. What good could his confession do? perhaps much possible harm; and why was he there?
Peter was very restless, and yet he must seem very quiet. He 'sat down' among the servants, then he stood up among them. It was this restlessness of attempted indifference which attracted the attention of the maid who had at the first admitted him. As in the uncertain light she scanned the features of the mysterious stranger, she boldly charged him, though still in a questioning tone, with being one of the disciples of the Man Who stood incriminated up there before the High-Priest. And in the chattering of his soul's fever, into which the chill had struck, Peter vehemently denied all knowledge of Him to Whom the woman referred, nay, of the very meaning of what she said. He had said too much not to bring soon another charge upon himself. We need not inquire which of the slightly varying reports in the Gospels represents the actual words of the woman or the actual answer of Peter. Perhaps neither; perhaps all - certainly, she said all this, and, certainly, he answered all that, though neither of them would confine their words to the short sentences reported by each of the Evangelists.
What had he to do there? And why should he incriminate himself, or perhaps Christ, by a needless confession to those who had neither the moral nor the legal right to exact it? That was all he now remembered and thought; nothing about any denial of Christ. And so, as they were still chatting together, perhaps bandying words, Peter withdrew. We cannot judge how long time had passed, but this we gather, that the words of the woman had either not made any impression on those around the fire, or that the bold denial of Peter had satisfied them. Presently, we find Peter walking away down ' the porch, ' which ran round and opened into ' the outer court. ' He was not thinking of anything else now than how chilly it felt, and how right he had been in not being entrapped by that woman. And so he heeded it not, while his footfall sounded along the marble-paved porch, that just at this moment the rooster crowed. But there was no sleep that night in the High-Priest's Palace. As he walked down the porch towards the outer court, first one maid met him; and then, as he returned from the outer court, he once more encountered his old accuser, the door-portress; and as he crossed the inner court to mingle again with the group around the fire, where he had formerly found safety, he was first accosted by one man, and then they all around the fire turned upon him, and each and all had the same thing to say, the same charge, that he was also one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.
But Peter's resolve was taken; he was quite sure it was right; and to each separately, and to all together, he gave the same denial, more brief now, for he was collected and determined, but more emphatic - even with an oath. And once more he silenced suspicion for a time. Or, perhaps, attention was now otherwise directed.
Jesus' second trial
About 5:30 a.m.
"Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. And after binding Him, they led Him away and delivered Him up to Pontius Pilate, the governor." (Matthew 27:1-2, HBFV)
"Now as soon as it was day, the elders of the people assembled together, with both the chief priests and the scribes, and they led Him into their Sanhedrin, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us." And He said to them, "If I should tell you, you would not believe Me at all; And if I should also ask you, you would not answer Me at all, nor let Me go. Hereafter shall the Son of man be sitting at the right hand of the power of God." And they all said, "Then You are the Son of God?" And He said to them, "I am that one, as you say." Then they said, 'What need do we have of any other witness? For we ourselves have heard from His own mouth.'" (Luke 22:66-71, HBFV)
The pale grey light had passed into that of early morning, when the Sanhedrists once more assembled in the Palace of Caiaphas. A comparison with the terms in which they who had formed the gathering of the previous night are described will convey the impression, that the number of those present was now increased, and that they who now came belonged to the wisest and most influential of the Council. It is not unreasonable to suppose, that some who would not take part in deliberations which were virtually a judicial murder might, once the resolution was taken, feel in Jewish casuistry absolved from guilt in advising how the informal sentence might best be carried into effect. It was this, and not the question of Christ's guilt, which formed the subject of deliberation on that early morning. The result of it was to 'bind' Jesus and hand Him over as a malefactor to Pilate, with the resolve, if possible, not to frame any definite charge; but, if this became necessary, to lay all the emphasis on the purely political, not the religious aspect of the claims of Jesus.
Judas repents, commits suicide
Wednesday, April 5, 30 A.D.
"Now when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He was condemned, he changed his mind and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned and have betrayed innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? You see to it yourself." And after throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he went out and hanged himself.
"But the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood." And after taking counsel, they bought a potter's field with the pieces of silver, for a burial ground for strangers. Therefore that field is called The Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And I took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him on Whom a price was set, Whom they of the sons of Israel set a price on, And gave them for the field of the potter, as the Lord had directed me." (Matthew 27:3-10, HBFV)
It is in the interval during which Jesus was before Herod, or probably soon afterwards, that we place the last weird scene in the life of Judas, recorded by Matthew. We infer this from the circumstance, that, on the return of Jesus from Herod, the Sanhedrists do not seem to have been present, since Pilate had to call them together, presumably from the Temple. And here we recall that the Temple was close to the Maccabean Palace. Lastly, the impression left on our minds is, that henceforth the principal part before Pilate was sustained by 'the people,' the Priests and Scribes rather instigating them than conducting the case against Jesus. It may therefore well have been, that, when the Sanhedrists went from the Maccabean Palace into the Temple, as might be expected on that day, only a part of them returned to the Praetorium on the summons of Pilate.
But, however that may have been, sufficient had already passed to convince Judas what the end would be. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that he could have deceived himself on this point from the first, however he had failed to realize the fact in its terrible import till after his deed. The words which Jesus had spoken to him in the Garden must have burnt into his soul. He was among the soldiery that fell back at His look. Since then Jesus had been led bound to Annas, to Caiaphas, to the Praetorium, to Herod. Even if Judas had not been present at any of these occasions, and we do not suppose that his conscience had allowed this, all Jerusalem must by that time have been full of the report, probably in even exaggerated form. One thing he saw: that Jesus was condemned. Judas did not 'repent' in the Scriptural sense; but 'a change of mind and feeling' came over him. Even had Jesus been an ordinary man, and the relation to Him of Judas been the ordinary one, we could understand his feelings, especially considering his ardent temperament. The instant before and after sin represents the difference of feeling as portrayed in the history of the Fall of our first parents. With the commission of sin, all the bewitching, intoxicating influence, which incited to it, has passed away, and only the naked fact remains. All the glamour has been dispelled; all the reality abideth.
It was despair, and his a desperate resolve. He must get rid of these thirty pieces of silver, which, like thirty serpents, coiled round his soul with terrible hissing of death. Then at least his deed would have nothing of the selfish in it: only a terrible error, a mistake, to which he had been incited by these Sanhedrists. Back to them with the money, and let them have it again! And so forward he pressed amidst the wondering crowd, which would give way before that haggard face with the wild eyes, that crime had made old in those few hours, till he came upon that knot of priests and Sanhedrists, perhaps at that very moment speaking of it all. A most unwelcome sight and intrusion on them, this necessary but odious figure in the drama - belonging to its past, and who should rest in its obscurity.
But he would be heard; his words would cast the burden on them to share it with him, as with hoarse cry he broke into this:
"I have sinned and have betrayed innocent blood."
Out he rushed from the Temple, out of Jerusalem, 'into solitude.' Whither shall it be? Down into the horrible solitude of the Valley of Hinnom, the 'Tophet' of old, with its ghastly memories, the Gehenna of the future, with its Spiritly associations. But it was not solitude, for it seemed now peopled with figures, faces, sounds. Across the Valley, and up the steep sides of the mountain! We are now on 'the potter's field' of Jeremiah - somewhat to the west above where the Kidron and Hinnom valleys merge. It is cold, soft clayey soil, where the footsteps slip, or are held in clammy bonds. Here jagged rocks rise perpendicularly: perhaps there was some gnarled, bent, stunted tree. Up there climbed to the top of that rock. Now slowly and deliberately he unwound the long girdle that held his garment. It was the girdle in which he had carried those thirty pieces of silver. He was now quite calm and collected. With that girdle he will hang himself on that tree close by, and when he has fastened it, he will throw himself off from that jagged rock.
It is done; but as, unconscious, not yet dead perhaps, he swung heavily on that branch, under the unwonted burden the girdle gave way, or perhaps the knot, which his trembling hands had made, unloosed, and he fell heavily forward among the jagged rocks beneath, and perished in the manner of which Peter reminded his fellow-disciples in the days before Pentecost. But in the Temple the priests knew not what to do with these thirty pieces of money. Their unscrupulous scrupulosity came again upon them. It was not lawful to take into the Temple-treasury, for the purchase of sacred things, money that had been unlawfully gained. In such cases the Jewish Law provided that the money was to be restored to the donor, and, if he insisted on giving it, that he should be induced to spend it for something for the public. By a fiction of law the money was still considered to be Judas', and to have been applied by him in the purchase of the well-known 'potter's field,' for the charitable purpose of burying in it strangers. But from henceforth the old name of 'potter's field,' became popularly changed into that of 'field of blood.'
Pilate questions Jesus
Just before 7 a.m.
"And when the entire assembly of them arose, they led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this man subverting the nation and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, claiming that He Himself is Christ, a King." But Pilate questioned Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And He answered and said, "It is as you say." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find nothing blameworthy in this man." But they were insistent, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all of Judea, beginning from Galilee even to here." And when he heard Galilee named, Pilate asked whether the man were a Galilean; And after determining that He was from Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, since he also was in Jerusalem in those days." (Luke 23:1-7, HBFV)
To us it may seem strange, that they who, in the lowest view of it, had committed so grossly unrighteous, and were now coming on so cruel and bloody a deed, should have been prevented by religious scruples from entering the 'Praetorium.' And yet the student of Jewish casuistry will understand it; nay, alas, history and even common observation furnish only too many parallel instances of unscrupulous scrupulosity and unrighteous conscientiousness. Alike conscience and religiousness are only moral tendencies natural to man; whither they tend, must be decided by considerations outside of them: by enlightenment and truth. The 'Praetorium,' to which the Jewish leaders, or at least those of them who represented the leaders - for neither Annas nor Caiaphas seems to have been personally present - brought the bound Christ, was (as always in the provinces) the quarters occupied by the Roman Governor. In Caesarea this was the Palace of Herod, and there Paul was afterwards a prisoner.
But in Jerusalem there were two such quarters: the fortress Antonia, and the magnificent Palace of Herod at the north-western angle of the Upper City. Although it is impossible to speak with certainty, the balance of probability is entirely in favor of the view that, when Pilate was in Jerusalem with his wife, he occupied the truly royal abode of Herod, and not the fortified barracks of Antonia. From the slope at the eastern angle, opposite the Temple-Mount, where the Palace of Caiaphas stood, up the narrow streets of the Upper City, the melancholy procession wound to the portals of the grand Palace of Herod. It is recorded, that they who brought Him would not themselves enter the portals of the Palace, 'that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.'
It may have been about seven in the morning, probably even earlier, when Pilate went out to those who summoned him to dispense justice. The question which he addressed to them seems to have startled and disconcerted them. Their procedure had been private; it was of the very essence of proceedings at Roman Law that they were in public. Again, the procedure before the Sanhedrists had been in the form of a criminal investigation, while it was of the essence of Roman procedure to enter only on definite accusations. Accordingly, the first question of Pilate was, what accusation they brought against Jesus. The question would come upon them the more unexpectedly, that Pilate must, on the previous evening, have given his consent to the employment of the Roman guard which effected the arrest of Jesus. Their answer displays humiliation, ill-honor, and an attempt at evasion.
If He had not been 'a malefactor,' they would not have 'delivered' Him up! On this vague charge Pilate, in whom we mark throughout a strange reluctance to proceed - perhaps from unwillingness to please the Jews, perhaps from a desire to wound their feelings on the tenderest point, perhaps because restrained by a Higher Hand - refused to proceed. He proposed that the Sanhedrists should try Jesus according to the Jewish Law. This is another important trait, as apparently implying that Pilate had been previously aware both of the peculiar claims of Jesus, and that the action of the Jewish authorities had been determined by 'envy.' But, under ordinary circumstances, Pilate would not have wished to hand over a person accused of so grave a charge as that of setting up Messianic claims to the Jewish authorities, to try the case as a merely religious question.
Taking this in connection with the other fact, apparently inconsistent with it, that on the previous evening the Governor had given a Roman guard for the arrest of the prisoner, and with this other fact of the dream and warning of Pilate's wife, a peculiar impression is conveyed to us. We can understand it all, if, on the previous evening, after the Roman guard had been granted, Pilate had spoken of it to his wife, whether because he knew her to be, or because she might be interested in the matter.
As the Jewish authorities had to decline the Governor's offer to proceed against Jesus before their own tribunal, on the avowed ground that they had not power to pronounce capital sentence, it now behoved them to formulate a capital charge. This is recorded by Luke alone. It was, that Jesus had said, He Himself was Christ a King. It will be noted, that in so saying they falsely imputed to Jesus their own political expectations concerning the Messiah. But even this is not all. They prefaced it by this, that He perverted the nation and forbade to give tribute to Caesar. The latter charge was so grossly unfounded, that we can only regard it as in their mind a necessary inference from the premiss that He claimed to be King. And, as telling most against Him, they put this first and foremost, treating the inference as if it were a fact - a practice this only too common in controversies, political, religious, or private.
This charge of the Sanhedrists explains what, according to all the Evangelists, passed within the Praetorium. We presume that Christ was within, probably in charge of some guards. The words of the Sanhedrists brought peculiar thoughts of Pilate. He now called Jesus and asked Him: ' Thou art the King of the Jews? ' There is that mixture of contempt for all that was Jewish, and of that general cynicism which could not believe in the existence of anything higher, we mark a feeling of awe in regard to Christ, even though the feeling may partly have been of superstition. Out of all that the Sanhedrists had said, Pilate took only this, that Jesus claimed to be a King. Christ, Who had not heard the charge of His accusers, now ignored it, in His desire to stretch out salvation even to a Pilate. Not heeding the implied irony, He first put it to Pilate, whether the question - be it criminal charge or inquiry - was his own, or merely the repetition of what His Jewish accusers had told Pilate of Him. The Governor quickly disowned any personal inquiry. How could he raise any such question? he was not a Jew, and the subject had no general interest. Jesus' own nation and its leader had handed Him over as a criminal: what had He done?
The answer of Pilate left nothing else for Him Who, even in that supreme hour, thought only of others, not of Himself. but to bring before the Roman directly that truth for which his words had given the opening. It was not, as Pilate had implied, a Jewish question: it was one of absolute truth; it concerned all men. The Kingdom of Christ was not of this world at all, either Jewish or Gentile. Had it been otherwise, He would have led His followers to a contest for His claims and aims, and not have become a prisoner of the Jews. One word only in all this struck Pilate. 'So then a King art Thou! ' He was incapable of apprehending the higher thought and truth.
We mark in his words the same mixture of scoffing and misgiving. Pilate was now in no doubt as to the nature of the Kingdom; his exclamation and question applied to the Kingship. That fact Christ would now emphasize in the glory of His Humiliation. He accepted what Pilate said; He adopted his words. But He added to them an appeal, or rather an explanation of His claims, such as a heathen, and a Pilate, could understand. His Kingdom was not of this world, but of that other world which He had come to reveal, and to open to all believers. Here was the truth! His Birth or Incarnation, as the Sent of the Father, and His own voluntary Coming into this world - for both are referred to in His words - had it for their object to testify of the truth concerning that other world, of which was His Kingdom. This was no Jewish-Messianic Kingdom, but one that appealed to all men. And all who had moral affinity to 'the truth' would listen to His testimony, and so come to own Him as 'King.'
But these words struck only a hollow void, as they fell on Pilate. It was not merely cynicism, but utter despair of all that is higher - a moral suicide - which appears in his question: 'What is truth? ' He had understood Christ, but it was not in him to respond to His appeal. He, whose heart and life had so little kinship to 'the truth,' could not sympathize with, though he dimly perceived, the grand aim of Jesus' Life and Work. But even the question of Pilate seems an admission, an implied homage to Christ. Assuredly, he would not have so opened his inner being to one of the priestly accusers of Jesus.
That man was no rebel, no criminal! They who brought Him were moved by the lowest passions. And so he told them, as he went out, that he found no fault in Him. Then came from the assembled Sanhedrists a perfect hailstorm of accusations. As we picture it to ourselves, all this while the Christ stood near, perhaps behind Pilate, just within the portals of the Praetorium. And to all this clamor of charges He made no reply. It was as if the surging of the wild waves broke far beneath against the base of the rock, which, untouched, reared its head far aloft to the heavens. But as He stood in the calm silence of Majesty, Pilate greatly wondered. Did this Man not even fear death; was He so conscious of innocence, so infinitely superior to those around and against Him, or had He so far conquered Death, that He would not condescend to their words? And why then had He spoken to him of His Kingdom and of that truth?
Fain would he have withdrawn from it all; not that he was moved for absolute truth or by the personal innocence of the Sufferer, but that there was that in the Christ which, perhaps for the first time in his life, had made him reluctant to be unrighteous and unjust. And so, when, amidst these confused cries, he caught the name Galilee as the scene of Jesus' labors, he gladly seized on what offered the prospect of devolving the responsibility on another. Jesus was a Galilean, and therefore belonged to the jurisdiction of King Herod. To Herod, therefore, who had come for the Feast to Jerusalem, and there occupied the old Maccabean Palace, close to that of the High-Priest, Jesus was now sent.
From Pilate to Herod and back
"And when Herod saw Jesus, he rejoiced greatly; for he had long been desiring to see Him because he had heard many things about Him, and he was hoping to see a miracle done by Him. And he questioned Him with many words; but He answered him nothing. All the while, the chief priests and the scribes stood vehemently accusing Him. Then Herod and his soldiers treated Him with contempt; and after mocking Him, he put a splendid robe on Him and sent Him back to Pilate. And on that same day, Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, because before there was enmity between them." (Luke 23:8-12, HBFV)
To Luke alone we owe the account of what passed there, as, indeed, of so many traits in this last scene of the terrible drama. The opportunity now offered was welcome to Herod. It was a mark of reconciliation (or might be viewed as such) between himself and the Roman, and in a manner flattering to himself, since the first step had been taken by the Governor, and that, by an almost ostentatious acknowledgement of the rights of the Tetrarch, on which possibly their former feud may have turned. Besides, Herod had long wished to see Jesus, of Whom he had heard so many things. In that hour coarse curiosity, a hope of seeing some magic performances, was the only feeling that moved the Tetrarch. But in vain did he pepper Christ with questions. He was as silent to him as formerly against the virulent charges of the Sanhedrists. But a Christ Who would or could do no signs, nor even kindle into the same denunciations as the Baptist, was, to the coarse realism of Antipas, only a helpless figure that might be insulted and scoffed at, as did the Tetrarch and his men of war. And so Jesus was once more sent back to the Praetorium.
Before Pilate a second time
About 8 a.m.
"Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your own law." But the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death"; So that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He had spoken to signify by what death He was about to die.
"Then Pilate returned to the judgment hall and called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered him, "Do you ask this of yourself, or did others say it to you concerning Me?" Pilate answered Him, "Am I a Jew? The chief priests and your own nation have delivered You up to me. What have You done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, so that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. However, My kingdom is not of this world."
"Pilate therefore answered Him, "Then You are a king?" Jesus answered, "As you say, I am a king. For this purpose I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, that I may bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And after saying this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, 'I do not find any fault in Him.'" (John 18:31-38, HBFV)
We are once more outside the Praetorium, to which Pilate had summoned from the Temple Sanhedrists and people. The crowd was momentarily increasing from the town. It was not only to see what was about to happen, but to witness another spectacle, that of the release of a prisoner. For it seems to have been the custom, that at the Passover the Roman Governor released to the Jewish populace some notorious prisoner who lay condemned to death. A very significant custom of release this, for which they now began to clamor. It may have been, that to this also they were incited by the Sanhedrist who mingled among them. For if the stream of popular sympathy might be diverted to Barabbas, the doom of Jesus would be the more securely fixed. On the present occasion it might be the more easy to influence the people, since Barabbas belonged to that class, not uncommon at the time, which, under the colorable pretence of political aspirations, committed robbery and other crimes. But these movements had deeply struck root in popular sympathy. A strange name and figure, Barabbas. That could scarcely have been his real name. It means 'Son of the Father.' Was he a political Anti-Christ? And why, if there had not been some conjunction between them, should Pilate have proposed the alternative of Jesus or Barabbas, and not rather that of one of the two malefactors who were actually crucified with Jesus?
Pilate releases Barabbas, has Jesus crucified
"Now at the feast, the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the multitude, whomever they wished. And they had at that time a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you desire that I release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus Who is called Christ?" For he understood that they had delivered Him up because of envy. Now as he sat on the judgment seat, his wife sent a message to him, saying, "Let there be nothing between you and that righteous man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him."
"But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to demand Barabbas, and to destroy Jesus. Then the governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you desire that I release to you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus Who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!" And the governor said, "Why? What evil did He commit?" But they shouted all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"
"Now Pilate, seeing that he was accomplishing nothing, but that a riot was developing instead, took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am guiltless of the blood of this righteous man. You see to it." And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." Then he released Barabbas to them; but after scourging Jesus, he delivered Him up so that He might be crucified." (Matthew 27:15-26, HBFV)
But when the Governor, hoping to enlist some popular sympathy, put this alternative to them - nay, urged it, on the ground that neither he nor yet Herod had found any crime in Him, and would even have appeased their thirst for vengeance by offering to submit Jesus to the cruel punishment of scourging, it was in vain. It was now that Pilate sat down on ' the judgment seat. ' But before he could proceed, came that message from his wife about her dream, and the warning entreaty to have nothing to do ' with that righteous man. ' An omen such as a dream, and an appeal connected with it, especially in the circumstances of that trial, would powerfully impress a Roman. And for a few moments it seemed as if the appeal to popular feeling on behalf of Jesus might have been successful. But once more the Sanhedrists prevailed. Apparently, all who had been followers of Jesus had been scattered. None of them seem to have been there; and if one or another feeble voice might have been raised for Him, it was hushed in fear of the Sanhedrists. It was Barabbas for whom, incited by the priesthood, the populace now clamored with increasing vehemence. To the question - half bitter, half mocking - what they wished him to do with Him Whom their own leaders had in their accusation called ' King of the Jews, ' surged back, louder and louder, the terrible cry: ' Crucify him! ' That such a cry should have been raised, and raised by Jews, and before the Roman, and against Jesus, are in themselves almost inconceivable facts, to which the history of these eighteen centuries has made terrible echo. In vain Pilate expostulated, reasoned, appealed. Popular frenzy only grew as it was opposed.
All reasoning having failed, Pilate had recourse to one more expedient, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been effective. When a Judge, after having declared the innocence of the accused, actually rises from the judgment-seat, and by a symbolic act pronounces the execution of the accused a judicial murder, from all participation in which he wishes solemnly to clear himself, surely no jury would persist in demanding sentence of death. But in the present instance there was even more. Although we find allusions to some such custom among the heathen, that which here took place was an essentially Jewish rite, which must have appealed the more forcibly to the Jews that it was done by Pilate. And, not only the rite, but the very words were Jewish.
As administering justice in Israel, Pilate must have been aware of this rite. It does not affect the question, whether or not a judge could, especially in the circumstances recorded, free himself from guilt. Certainly, he could not; but such conduct on the part of a Pilate appears so utterly unusual, as, indeed, his whole bearing towards Christ, that we can only account for it by the deep impression which Jesus had made upon him. All the more terrible would be the guilt of Jewish resistance. There is something overawing in Pilate's, ' See ye to it ' - a reply to the Sanhedrists' ' See thou to it, ' to Judas, and in the same words. It almost seems, as if the scene of mutual imputation of guilt in the Garden of Eden were being reenacted. The Mishnah tells us, that, after the solemn washing of hands of the elders and their disclaimer of guilt, priest responded with this prayer:
"Forgive it to Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, O Lord, and lay not innocent blood upon Thy people Israel! "
But here, in answer to Pilate's words, came back that deep, hoarse cry: 'His Blood be upon us, ' Some thirty years later, and on that very spot, was judgment pronounced against some of the best in Jerusalem; and among the 3,600 victims of the Governor's fury, of whom not a few were scourged and crucified right over against the Praetorium, were many of the noblest of the citizens of Jerusalem. A few years more, and hundreds of crosses bore Jewish mangled bodies within sight of Jerusalem.
Beaten and scouraged
About 8:30 a.m.
"Then the governor's soldiers, after taking Jesus with them into the Praetorium, gathered the entire band against Him; And they stripped Him and put a scarlet cloak around Him. And after platting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a rod in His right hand; and bowing on their knees before Him, they mocked Him, and kept on saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Then, after spitting on Him, they took the rod and struck Him on the head. When they were done mocking Him, they took the cloak off Him; and they put His own garments on Him and led Him away to crucify Him." (Matthew 27:26-31, HBFV)
The Evangelists have passed as rapidly as possible over the last scenes of indignity and horror, and we are too thankful to follow their example. Barabbas was at once released. Jesus was handed over to the soldiery to be scourged and crucified, although final and formal judgment had not yet been pronounced. Indeed, Pilate seems to have hoped that the horrors of the scourging might still move the people to desist from the ferocious cry for the Cross. For the same reason we may also hope, that the scourging was not inflicted with the same ferocity as in the case of Christian martyrs, when, with the object of eliciting the incrimination of others, or else recantation, the scourge of leather thongs was loaded with lead, or armed with spikes and bones, which lacerated back, and chest, and face, till the victim sometimes fell down before the judge a bleeding mass of torn flesh.
Scourging was the terrible introduction to crucifixion - 'the intermediate death.' Stripped of His clothes, His hands tied and back bent, the Victim would be bound to a column or stake, in front of the Praetorium. The scourging ended, the soldiery would hastily cast upon Him His upper garments, and lead Him back into the Praetorium. Here they called the whole cohort together, and the silent, faint Sufferer became the object of their ribald jesting. From His bleeding Body they tore the clothes, and in mockery arrayed Him in scarlet or purple. For crown they wound together thorns, and for sceptre they placed in His Hand a reed. Then alternately, in mock proclamation they hailed Him King, or worshipped Him as God, and smote Him or heaped on Him other indignities.
Such a spectacle might well have disarmed enmity, and for ever allayed worldly fears. And so Pilate had hoped, when, at his bidding, Jesus came forth from the Praetorium, arrayed as a mock-king, and the Governor presented Him to the populace in words which the Church has ever since treasured: ' Behold the Man! ' But, so far from appeasing, the sight only incited to fury the 'chief priests' and their subordinates. This Man before them was the occasion, that on this Passover Day a heathen dared in Jerusalem itself insult their deepest feeling, mock their most cherished Messianic hopes! ' Crucify!' 'Crucify! ' resounded from all sides. Once more Pilate appealed to them, when, unwittingly and unwillingly, it elicited this from the people, that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God.
If nothing else, what light it casts on the mode in which Jesus had borne Himself amidst those tortures and insults, that this statement of the Jews filled Pilate with fear, and led him to seek again converse with Jesus within the Praetorium. The impression which had been made at the first, and been deepened all along, had now passed into the terror of superstition. His first question to Jesus was, whence He was? And when, as was most fitting - since he could not have understood it - Jesus returned no answer, the feelings of the Romans became only the more intense. Would he not speak; did He not know that he had absolute power ' to release or to crucify ' Him? Nay, not absolute power - all power came from above; but the guilt in the abuse of power was far greater on the part of apostate Israel and its leaders, who knew whence power came, and to Whom they were responsible for its exercise.
So spake not an impostor; so spake not an ordinary man - after such sufferings and in such circumstances - to one who, whencesoever derived, had the power of life or death over Him. And Pilate felt it - the more keenly, for his cynicism and disbelief of all that was higher. And the more earnestly did he now seek to release Him. But, proportionately, the louder and fiercer was the cry of the Jews for His Blood, till they threatened to implicate in the charge of rebellion against Caesar the Governor himself, if he persisted in unwonted mercy.
Such danger a Pilate would never encounter. He sat down once more in the judgment-seat, outside the Praetorium, in the place called 'Pavement,' and, from its outlook over the City, 'Gabbatha,' 'the rounded height.' So solemn is the transaction that the Evangelist pauses to note once more the day - nay, the very hour, when the process had commenced. It had been the Friday in Passover-week, and between six and seven of the morning. And at the close Pilate once more in mockery presented to them Jesus: ' Behold your King! ' Once more they called for His Crucifixion - and, when again challenged, the chief priests burst into the cry, which preceded Pilate's final sentence, to be presently executed: ' We have no king but Caesar! '
With this cry Judaism was, in the person of its representatives, guilty of denial of God, of blasphemy, of apostasy. It committed suicide; and, ever since, has its dead body been carried in show from land to land, and from century to century: to be dead, and to remain dead, till He come a second time, Who is the Resurrection and the Life! It matters little as regards their guilt, whether, pressing the language of John, we are to understand that Pilate delivered Jesus to the Jews to be crucified, or, as we rather infer, to his own soldiers. This was the common practice, and it accords both with the Governor's former taunt to the Jews, and with the after-notice of the Synoptists.
Jesus led to be crucified
Just before 9 a.m.
"And as they led Him away, they laid hold on a certain Cyrenian named Simon, who was coming from a field; and they put the cross on him, that he might carry it behind Jesus. And following Him was a great multitude of people with many women, who also were bewailing and lamenting Him. But Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming in which they shall say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that did not bear, and the breasts that did not give suck.' Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall take place in the dry?'" (Luke 23:26-31, HBFV)
Once more was He unrobed and robed. The purple robe was torn from His Wounded Body, the crown of thorns from His Bleeding Brow. Arrayed again in His own, now blood-stained, garments, He was led forth to execution. Only about two hours and a half had passed since the time that He had first stood before Pilate, when the melancholy procession reached Golgotha. In Rome an interval, ordinarily of two days, intervened between a sentence and its execution; but the rule does not seem to have applied to the provinces, if, indeed, in this case the formal rules of Roman procedure were at all observed.
The terrible preparations were soon made: the hammer, the nails, the Cross, the very food for the soldiers who were to watch under each Cross. Four soldiers would be detailed for each Cross, the whole being under the command of a centurion. As always, the Cross was borne to the execution by Him Who was to suffer on it - perhaps His Arms bound to it with cords. But there is happily no evidence - rather, every indication to the contrary - that, according to ancient custom, the neck of the Sufferer was fastened within the patibulum, two horizontal pieces of wood, fastened at the end, to which the hands were bound. Ordinarily, the procession was headed by the centurion, or rather, preceded by one who proclaimed the nature of the crime, and carried a white, wooden board, on which it was written. Commonly, also, it took the longest road to the place of execution, and through the most crowded streets, so as to attract most public attention. But we would suggest, that alike this long circuit and the proclamation of the herald were, in the present instance, dispensed with. They are not hinted at in the text, and seem incongruous to the festive season, and the other circumstances of the history.
Discarding all later legendary embellishments, as only disturbing, we shall try to realize the scene as described in the Gospels. Under the leadership of the centurion, whether or not attended by one who bore the board with the inscription, or only surrounded by the four soldiers, of whom one might carry this tablet, Jesus came forth bearing His Cross. He was followed by two malefactors - 'robbers' - probably of the class then so numerous, that covered its crimes by pretensions of political motives. These two, also, would bear each his cross, and probably be attended each by four soldiers. Crucifixion was not a Jewish mode of punishment, although the Maccabee King Jannaeus had so far forgotten the claims of both humanity and religion as on one occasion to crucify not less than 800 persons in Jerusalem itself. But even Herod, with all cruelty, did not resort to this mode of execution.
Nor was it employed by the Romans till after the time of Caesar, when, with the fast increasing cruelty of punishments, it became fearfully common in the provinces. Especially does it seem to characterize the domination of Rome in Judea under every Governor. During the last siege of Jerusalem hundreds of crosses daily arose, till there seemed not sufficient room nor wood for them, and the soldiery diversified their horrible amusement by new modes of crucifixion. So did the Jewish appeal to Rome for the Crucifixion of Israel's King come back in hundredfold echoes. But, better than such retribution, the Cross of the God-Man hath put an end to the punishment of the cross, and instead, made the Cross the symbol of humanity, civilization, progress, peace, and love.
As mostly all abominations of the ancient world, whether in religion or life, crucifixion was of Phoenician origin, although Rome adopted, and improved on it. The modes of execution among the Jews were: strangulation, beheading, burning, and stoning. In all ordinary circumstances the Rabbis were most reluctant to pronounce sentence of death. This appears even from the injunction that the Judges were to fast on the day of such a sentence. Indeed, two of the leading Rabbis record it, that no such sentence would ever have been pronounced in a Sanhedrin of which they had been members. The indignity of hanging - and this only after the criminal had been otherwise executed - was reserved for the crimes of idolatry and blasphemy.
The place where criminals were stoned was on an elevation about eleven feet high, from whence the criminal was thrown down by the first witness. If he had not died by the fall, the second witness would throw a large stone on his heart as he lay. If not yet lifeless, the whole people would stone him. At a distance of six feet from the place of execution the criminal was undressed, only the covering absolutely necessary for decency being left.
This Cross, as John expressly states, Jesus Himself bore at the outset. And so the procession moved on towards Golgotha. Not only the location, but even the name of that which appeals so strongly to every Christian heart, is matter of controversy. The name cannot have been derived from the skulls which lay about, since such exposure would have been unlawful, and hence must have been due to the skull-like shape and appearance of the place. Accordingly, the name is commonly explained as the Greek form of the Aramaean Gulgalta, or the Hebrew Gulgoleth, which means a skull.
Such a description would fully correspond, not only to the requirements of the narrative, but to the appearance of the place which, so far as we can judge, represents Golgotha. We cannot here explain the various reasons for which the traditional site must be abandoned. Certain it is, that Golgotha was 'outside the gate,' and 'near the City.' In all likelihood it was the usual place of execution. Lastly, we know that it was situated near gardens, where there were tombs, and close to the highway. The three last conditions point to the north of Jerusalem. It must be remembered that the third wall, which afterwards surrounded Jerusalem, was not built till several years after the Crucifixion.
The new suburb of Bezetha extended at that time outside the second wall. Here the great highway passed northwards; close by, were villas and gardens; and here also rockhewn sepulchres have been discovered, which date from that period. But this is not all. The present Damascus Gate in the north of the city seems, in most ancient tradition, to have borne the name of Stephen's Gate, because the Proto-Martyr was believed to have passed through it to his stoning. Close by, then, must have been the place of execution. And at least one Jewish tradition fixes upon this very spot, close by what is known as the Grotto of Jeremiah, as the ancient 'place of stoning' (Beth haSeqilah). And the description of the locality answers all requirements. It is a weird, dreary place, two or three minutes aside from the high road, with a high, rounded, skull-like rocky plateau, and a sudden depression or hollow beneath, as if the jaws of the skull had opened. Whether or not the 'tomb of the Herodian period in the rocky knoll to the west of Jeremiah's Grotto' was the most sacred spot upon earth - the 'Sepulchre in the Garden,' we dare not positively assert, though every probability attaches to it.
From the ancient Palace of Herod it descended, and probably passed through the gate in the first wall, and so into the busy quarter of Acra. As it proceeded, the numbers who followed from the Temple, from the dense business-quarter through which it moved, increased. Shops, bazaars, and markets were, indeed, closed on the holy feast-day. But quite a crowd of people would come out to line the streets and to follow; and, especially, women, leaving their festive preparations, raised loud laments, not in spiritual recognition of Christ's claims, but in pity and sympathy. And who could have looked unmoved on such a spectacle, unless fanatical hatred had burnt out of his bosom all that was human?
Since the Passover Supper Jesus had not tasted either food or drink. After the deep emotion of that Feast, with all of holiest institution which it included; after the anticipated betrayal of Judas, and after the farewell to His disciples, He had passed into Gethsemane. There for hours, alone - since His nearest disciples could not watch with Him even one hour - the deep waters had rolled up to His soul. He had drunk of them, immersed, almost perished in them. There had he agonized in mortal conflict, till the great drops of blood forced themselves on His Brow. There had He been delivered up, while they all had fled. To Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, and again to Pilate; from indignity to indignity, from torture to torture, had He been hurried all that livelong night, all that morning. All throughout He had borne Himself with a Divine Majesty, which had awakened alike the deeper feelings of Pilate and the infuriated hatred of the Jews.
But if His Divinity gave its true meaning to His Humanity, that Humanity gave its true meaning to His voluntary Sacrifice. So, far, then, from seeking to hide its manifestations, the Evangelists, not indeed needlessly but unhesitatingly, put them forward. Unrefreshed by food or sleep, after the terrible events of that night and morning, while His pallid Face bore the blood-marks from the crown of thorns, His mangled Body was unable to bear the weight of the Cross. No wonder the pity of the women of Jerusalem was stirred. But ours is not pity, it is worship at the sight. For, underlying His Human Weakness was the Divine Strength which led Him to this voluntary self-surrender and self-examination. It was the Divine strength of His pity and love which issued in His Human weakness.
Up to that last Gate which led from the 'Suburb' towards the place of execution did Jesus bear His Cross. Then, as we infer, His strength gave way under it. A man was coming from the opposite direction, one from that large colony of Jews which, as we know, had settled in Cyrene. He would be specially noticed; for, few would at that hour, on the festive day, come 'out of the country,' although such was not contrary to the Law. So much has been made of this, that it ought to be distinctly known that travelling, which was forbidden on Sabbaths, was not prohibited on feast-days. Besides, the place whence he came - perhaps his home - might have been within the ecclesiastical boundary of Jerusalem. At any rate, he seems to have been well known, at least afterwards, in the Church - and his sons Alexander and Rufus even better than he. Thus much only can we say with certainty; to identify them with persons of the same name mentioned in other parts of the New Testament can only be matter of speculation. But we can scarcely repress the thought that Simon the Cyrenian had not before that day been a disciple; had only learned to follow Christ, when, on that day, as he came in by the Gate, the soldiery laid hold on him, and against his will forced him to bear the Cross after Christ. Yet another indication of the need of such help comes to us from Mark, who uses an expression which conveys, though not necessarily that the Savior had to be borne, yet that He had to be supported to Golgotha from the place where they met Simon.
Here, where, if the Savior did not actually sink under His burden, it yet required to be transferred to the Cyrenian, while Himself henceforth needed bodily support, we place the next incident in this history. While the Cross was laid on the unwilling Simon, the women who had followed with the populace closed around the Sufferer, raising their lamentations. At His Entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus had wept over the daughters of Jerusalem; as He left it for the last time, they wept over Him.
But far different were the reasons for His tears from theirs of mere pity. And, if proof were required of His Divine strength, even in the utmost depth of His Human weakness - how, conquered, He was Conqueror - it would surely be found in the words in which He bade them turn their thoughts of pity where pity would be called for, even to themselves and their children in the near judgment upon Jerusalem. The time would come, when the Old Testament curse of barrenness would be coveted as a blessing. To show the fulfilment of this prophetic lament of Jesus, it is not necessary to recall the harrowing details recorded by Josephus, when a frenzied mother roasted her own child, and in the mockery of desperateness reserved the half of the horrible meal for those murderers who daily broke in upon her to rob her of what scanty food had been left her; nor yet other of those incidents, too revolting for needless repetition, which the historian of the last siege of Jerusalem chronicles.
And yet natural, and, in some respects, genuine, as were the tears of ' the daughters of Jerusalem, ' mere sympathy with Christ almost involves guilt, since it implies a view of Him which is essentially the opposite of that which His claims demand. These tears were the emblem of that modern sentiment about the Christ which, in its effusiveness, offers insult rather than homage, and implies rejection rather than acknowledgment of Him. We shrink with horror from the assumption of a higher standpoint, implied in so much of the modern so-called criticism about the Christ. But even beyond this, all mere sentimentalism is here the outcome of unconsciousness of our real condition. When a sense of sin has been awakened in us, we shall mourn, not for what Christ has suffered, but for what He suffered for us. The effusiveness of mere sentiment is impertinence or folly: impertinence, if He was the Son of God; folly, if He was merely Man. And, even from quite another point of view, there is here a lesson to learn. It is the peculiarity of Romanism ever to present the Christ in His Human weakness. It is that of an extreme section on the opposite side, to view Him only in His Divinity. Be it ours ever to keep before us, and to worship as we remember it, that the Christ is the Savior God-Man.
It was when the melancholy procession reached Golgotha, and the yet more melancholy preparations for the Crucifixion commenced. Avowedly, the punishment was invented to make death as painful and as lingering as the power of human endurance. First, the upright wood was planted in the ground. It was not high, and probably the Feet of the Sufferer were not above one or two feet from the ground. Thus could the communication described in the Gospels take place between Him and others; thus, also, might His Sacred Lips be moistened with the sponge attached to a short stalk of hyssop. Next, the transverse wood (antenna) was placed on the ground, and the Sufferer laid on it, when His Arms were extended, drawn up, and bound to it. Then (this not in Egypt, but in Carthage and in Rome) a strong, sharp nail was driven, first into the Right, then into the Left Hand. Next, the Sufferer was drawn up by means of ropes, perhaps ladders; the transverse either bound or nailed to the upright, and a rest or support for the Body fastened on it. Lastly, the Feet were extended, and either one nail hammered into each, or a larger piece of iron through the two.
Jesus refuses wine mixed with gall, nailed to cross, clothes divided
"They gave Him vinegar mingled with gall to drink; but after tasting it, He would not drink." (Matthew 27:34, HBFV)
"There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on this side and one on the other side, and Jesus in the middle . . . Now the soldiers, after they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, a part for each soldier, and the coat also. But the coat was seamless, woven in one piece from the top all the way throughout. For this reason, they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots for it to determine whose it shall be"; that the scripture might be fulfilled which says, "They divided My garments among them, and they cast lots for My vesture." The soldiers therefore did these things." (John 19:18, 23-24, HBFV)
"Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And as they divided His garments, they cast lots." (Luke 23:34, HBFV)
"And Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; and it was written, "Jesus the Nazarean, the King of the Jews." As a result, many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek and in Latin. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews'; but that He said, 'I am King of the Jews.' " Pilate answered, 'What I have written, I have written."' (John 19:19-22, HBFV)
It was a merciful Jewish practice to give to those led to execution a draught of strong wine mixed with myrrh so as to deaden consciousness. This charitable office was performed at the cost of, if not by, an association of women in Jerusalem. That draught was offered to Jesus when He reached Golgatha. But having tasted it, and ascertained its character and object, He would not drink it. It was like His former refusal of the pity of the 'daughters of Jerusalem.' No man could take His Life from Him; He had power to lay it down, and to take it up again. Nor would He here yield to the ordinary weakness of our human nature; nor suffer and die as if it had been a necessity, not a voluntary self-surrender. He would meet Death, even in his sternest and fiercest mood, and conquer by submitting to the full. A lesson this also, though one difficult, to the Christian sufferer.
And so was He nailed to His Cross, which was placed between, probably somewhat higher than, those of the two malefactors crucified with Him. One thing only still remained: to affix to His Cross the so-called 'title' on which was inscribed the charge on which He had been condemned. As already stated, it was customary to carry this board before the prisoner, and there is no reason for supposing any exception in this respect. Indeed, it seems implied in the circumstance, that the 'title' had evidently been drawn up under the direction of Pilate. It was - as might have been expected, and yet most significantly - trilingual: in Latin, Greek, and Aramaean.
Again, it seems only natural, that the fullest, and to the Jews most offensive, description should have been in Aramaean, which all could read. Very significantly this is given by John. It follows, that the inscription given by Mark must represent that in Greek. Although much less comprehensive, it had the same number of words, and precisely the same number of letters, as that in Aramaean, given by John.
It seems probable, that the Sanhedrists had heard from some one, who had watched the procession on its way to Golgotha, of the inscription which Pilate had written on the 'titulus' - partly to avenge himself on, and partly to deride, the Jews. It is not likely that they would have asked Pilate to take it down after it had been affixed to the Cross; and it seems scarcely credible, that they would have waited outside the Praetorium till the melancholy procession commenced its march. We suppose that, after the condemnation of Jesus, the Sanhedrists had gone from the Praetorium into the Temple, to take part in its services.
When informed of the offensive tablet, they hastened once more to the Praetorium, to induce Pilate not to allow it to be put up. This explains the inversion in the order of the account in the Gospel of John, or rather, its location in that narrative in immediate connection with the notice, that the Sanhedrists were afraid the Jews who passed by might be influenced by the inscription. We imagine, that the Sanhedrists had originally no intention of doing anything so un-Jewish as not only to gaze at the sufferings of the Crucified, but to even deride Him in His Agony - that, in fact, they had not intended going to Golgotha at all. But when they found that Pilate would not yield to their remonstrances, some of them hastened to the place of Crucifixion, and, mingling with the crowd, sought to incite their jeers, so as to prevent any deeper impression which the significant words of the inscription might have produced.
Before nailing Him to the Cross, the soldiers parted among them the poor worldly inheritance of His raiment. On this point there are slight seeming differences between the notices of the Synoptists and the more detailed account of the Fourth Gospel. Such differences, if real, would afford only fresh evidence of the general trustworthiness of the narrative. For, we bear in mind that, of all the disciples, only John witnessed the last scenes, and that therefore the other accounts of it circulating in the early Church must have been derived, so to speak, from second sources. This explains, why perhaps the largest number of seeming discrepancies in the Gospels occurs in the narrative of the closing hours in the Life of Christ, and how, contrary to what otherwise we might have expected, the most detailed as well as precise account of them comes to us from John. In the present instance these slight seeming differences may be explained in the following manner. There was, as John states, first a division into four parts - one to each of the soldiers - of such garments of the Lord as were of nearly the same value. The head-gear, the outer cloak-like garment, the girdle, and the sandals, would differ little in cost. But the question, which of them was to belong to each of the soldiers, would naturally be decided, as the Synoptists inform us, by lot.
But, besides these four articles of dress, there was the seamless woven inner garment, by far the most valuable of all, and for which, as it could not be partitioned without being destroyed, they would specially cast lots (as John reports). Nothing in this world can be accidental, since God is not far from any of us. But in the History of the Christ the Divine purpose, which forms the subject of all prophecy, must have been constantly realized; nay, this must have forced itself on the mind of the observer, and the more irresistibly when, as in the present instance, the outward circumstances were in such sharp contrast to the higher reality. To John, the loving and loved disciple, greater contrast could scarcely exist than between this rough partition by lot among the soldiery, and the character and claims of Him Whose garments they were thus apportioning, as if He had been a helpless Victim in their hands.
Only one explanation could here suggest itself: that there was a special Divine meaning in the permission of such an event - that it was in fulfilment of ancient prophecy. As he gazed on the terrible scene, the words of the Psalm which portrayed the desertion, the sufferings, and the contempt even unto death of the Servant of the Lord, stood out in the red light of the Sun setting in Blood. They flashed upon his mind - for the first time he understood them; and the flames which played around the Sufferer were seen to be the sacrificial fire that consumed the Sacrifice which He offered. That this quotation is made in the Fourth Gospel alone, proves that its writer was an eyewitness; that it was made in the Fourth Gospel at all, that he was a Jew, deeply imbued with Jewish modes of religious thinking. And the evidence of both is the stronger, as we recall the comparative rareness, and the peculiarly Judaic character of the Old Testament quotations in the Fourth Gospel.
It was when they thus nailed Him to the Cross, and parted His raiment, that He spake the first of the so-called 'Seven Words:'
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Even the reference in this prayer to 'what they do' (not in the past, nor future) points to the soldiers as the primary, though certainly not the sole object of the Savior's prayer. But higher thoughts also come to us. In the moment of the deepest abasement of Christ's Human Nature, the Divine bursts forth most brightly. It is, as if the Savior would discard all that is merely human in His Sufferings, just as before He had discarded the Cup of stupefying wine. These soldiers were but the unconscious instruments: the form was nothing; the contest was between the Kingdom of God and that of darkness, between the Christ and Satan, and these sufferings were but the necessary path of obedience, and to victory and glory.
When He is most human (in the moment of His being nailed to the Cross), then is He most Divine, in the utter discarding of the human elements of human instrumentality and of human suffering. Then also in the utter self-forgetfulness of the God-Man - which is one of the aspects of the Incarnation - does He only remember Divine mercy, and pray for them who crucify Him; and thus also does the Conquered truly conquer His conquerors by asking for them what their deed had forfeited. And lastly, in this, that alike the first and the last of His Utterances begin with 'Father,' does He show by the unbrokenness of His faith and fellowship the real spiritual victory which He has won. And He has won it, not only for the martyrs, who have learned from Him to pray as He did, but for everyone who, in the midst of all that seems most opposed to it, can rise, beyond mere forgetfulness of what is around, to Realizing faith and fellowship with God as 'the Father,' - who through the dark curtain of cloud can discern the bright sky, and can feel the unshaken confidence, if not the unbroken joy, of absolute trust.
This was His first Utterance on the Cross - as regarded them; as regarded Himself; and as regarded God. So, surely, suffered not Man. Has this prayer of Christ been answered? We dare not doubt it; nay, we perceive it in some measure in those drops of blessing which have fallen upon heathen men, and have left to Israel also, even in its ignorance, a remnant according to the election of grace.
And now began the real agonies of the Cross - physical, mental, and spiritual. It was the weary, unrelieved waiting, as thickening darkness gradually gathered around. Before sitting down to their melancholy watch over the Crucified, the soldiers would refresh themselves, after their exertion in nailing Jesus to the Cross, lifting it up, and fixing it, by draughts of the cheap wine of the country. As they quaffed it, they drank to Him in their coarse brutality, and mockingly came to Him, asking Him to pledge them in response. Their jests were, indeed, chiefly directed not against Jesus personally, but in His Representative capacity, and so against the hated, despised Jews, whose King they now derisively challenged to save Himself. Yet even so, it seems to us of deepest significance, that He was so treated and derided in His Representative Capacity and as the King of the Jews.