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A Tragic Miscarriage of Justice

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 27:24–26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:23–25

The pressures of this world are unrelenting, urging us to compromise, to choose our interests over the Lord Jesus and God’s will. We must prepare for the onslaught and stand true to Christ. To do otherwise is to repeat Pilate’s injustice.


When an individual is tried, convicted, and punished for a crime that person did not commit, we refer to that as a tragic miscarriage of justice. I am always deeply troubled to read in the news of someone who suffered many years in prison, before being proven innocent—through new evidence or traces of DNA or some other forensic method.

Well, multiply that injustice many times over, and you might come close to describing the trial of Jesus before the Jewish world and now the Roman world. It is nothing short of a tragic miscarriage of justice.

The Jewish Sanhedrin has declared Jesus to be worthy of death. But Pilate has repeatedly, publicly declared that Jesus is innocent! In fact, three times in John’s Gospel, Pilate says, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:38; 19:4, 6). He wants to throw the case out of court for lack of evidence. But Jesus’ enemies are not giving in, and the pressure on Pilate is mounting.

John chapter 19 records what happens next—verse 1-2:

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe [the color of royalty].

This flogging most likely takes place in the Roman palace, using a whip with sharp metal or pieces of bone attached to three leather straps.[1] They will eventually press down on the Lord’s head a crown made of twisted thorns—probably from a date palm, which has thorns that can be some twelve inches long.

The description continues:

They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” (verses 3-5)

I believe Pilate is attempting to provoke some sort of sympathy with this brutal punishment and mockery of Jesus. And with his statement, “Behold the man!” he is effectively saying, “Look at Him! He’s bleeding; He’s an ordinary man. Does He look like a king to you? I have punished Him already. Isn’t this enough?”

Are they satisfied? Of course not. We read this in verse 6:

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

These religious leaders know they are not allowed to execute anyone without Rome’s approval; they need Pilate’s permission.[2]

So now, the Jewish leaders respond by telling Pilate the real reason for their hatred of Jesus—verse 7: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Beloved, some people argue that Jesus never claimed to be anything more than a rabbi. Well, the entire Jewish nation knew differently. They had tried to kill Him twice before because He claimed to be deity.

This new piece of information creates new fear in Pilate. He had sensed there was something different about this Jesus. And now, hearing this charge brings even greater alarm to him. Verse 9 tells us, “He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.’”

If Jesus had answered Pilate or performed some miracle, would He have been released? Perhaps, but Jesus did not come to earth so He could be released; He came to earth so we could be redeemed.

Pilate is frustrated by Jesus’ silence and warns the Lord that he has the authority to release Him or crucify Him. And to that Jesus responds in verse 11:

“You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

He is informing Pilate that he is not as powerful as he thinks he is. God is the one in charge here. Jesus also says that Pilate’s guilt is not as great as that of the high priest, along with the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, who knew what they were doing when they handed Him over to Pilate.

It is doubtful Pilate grasps much of this, but he knows Jesus is innocent, and—who knows?—maybe Jesus is the son of a god, which is probably what Pilate would understand by this claim. This was all enough to motivate him to release Jesus, and verse 12 says, “From then on Pilate sought to release him.”

The Jewish leaders have some political leverage, though, that they have been holding back till now. They say here in the latter part of verse 12, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

In other words, they’re threatening to report to Caesar that Pilate released a man who was a direct threat to the throne—a man who claimed to be a king above Caesar. Obviously, if Pilate is ignoring a threat to the empire, it will endanger Pilate’s position, for he will not be “Caesar’s friend.” By the way, “Friend of Caesar” was an official title of favor given to reward faithful service to the king.[3]

Now Pilate faces a decision. Is he going to choose to be a friend of the king of the Roman Empire or a friend to the King of the Jews? 

You happen to make that decision every day—in the shop, in the university classroom, in the corporate environment, in the political world. Whose friend are you going to be—a friend to this world system, or a friend of the King of Kings?

Despite the warning of his wife (Matthew 27:19) and the complete lack of evidence against Jesus, Pilate chooses what he sees as being in his best interest. Look at verse 13: “So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat.” This is where the final decision will be rendered.

The author John notes in verse 14, “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour.” It is 6:00 a.m. It is Passover, when each family slaughters an unblemished lamb; and in just a few hours, the pure Lamb of God will be slaughtered by the united family of humanity.

The innocence of Jesus has been established in court. The Lamb of God is without blemish. Other witnesses at the cross will add their testimony to His innocence. Even Judas, who tried to return the blood money, declared that he had betrayed innocent blood (Matthew 27:4). The only thing Jesus is guilty of is telling the truth—beloved, He is guilty of being the Son of God.

When Pilate tells the crowd to behold their King here in John 19:14, they again demand His crucifixion. They even shout aloud, here in verse 15, “We have no king but Caesar.”

With that, verse 16 sadly records, “[Pilate] delivered him over to them to be crucified.”

Matthew 27:24 reports that just before he turns Jesus over to be crucified, Pilate washes his hands before the crowd and says, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” Let me tell you, no matter how religious you are or how powerful you are, washing your hands will not cleanse your heart or your conscience. Only the blood sacrifice of God the Son can cleanse you from the guilt of sin.

Even though this was a terrible miscarriage of justice, it was planned from eternity past. But what is your verdict today? Jesus stands in the courtroom of your heart. And His blood is either on your hands because you are guilty of denying Him, or His blood has cleansed your heart, and you are forgiven forever.

[1] John F. Hart, “John,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham  (Moody Publishers, 2014), 1657.

[2] Homer A. Kent Jr., Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John (Baker, 1974), 206. See John 18:31.

[3] J. Ramsey Michaels, John, New International Biblical Commentary (Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), 320.

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