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The Civil Trials

Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
–Matthew 27:26

After Jesus’s first three trials, the Jews knew they had enough to charge Him with blasphemy, so they brought him before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. That was the first of the civil trials. According to Luke 23, there were two charges they levied against Jesus. First of all, they claimed He said they should not pay taxes. That was an outright lie. Just three chapters earlier, Jesus had told the religious leaders, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (20:25). Second, they told Pilate that Jesus was calling Himself a king. The fact is, Jesus did claim to be a king. Look at Luke 23:3-4: “So Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him and said, ‘It is as you say.’” But according to the Gospel of John, Jesus then added: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (18:36). When Pilate heard that, he thought, “I do not have anything to worry about.” So he said to the masses, “I find no fault in Him. Let Him go.”

The Jews would not have that. They were saying, “But Pilate, this man has been leading an insurrection from Galilee all the way down to Judea.” When Pilate heard the word “Galilee,” he realized he could send Jesus over to Herod, who was the governor of that area–and he happened to be in town. That was Jesus’s second civil trial, the trial before Herod. Perhaps the spirit of the festival got to him, but Herod decided to have some fun with Jesus. After questioning Him, he dressed Him up in a robe, gave Him a scepter, and sent Him back to Pilate. That leads to the final trial. Matthew 27:15-16 says, “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.” Pilate realized he could give the people a choice. He said, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (v. 17). He thought, “Certainly they will choose Jesus over this hardened criminal.” But the people asked for Barabbas. “Then what shall I do with Jesus?” Pilate asked. They yelled, “Crucify Him!” (vv. 22-23).

In his book “The Darkness And The Dawn,” Chuck Swindoll used his imagination based on historical fact to re-create what might have happened to Barabbas that day. From his cell in the fortress of Antonia, perhaps he could hear the crowd starting to yell his name. Then he heard the crowd roar, “Crucify Him!” A short time afterward, he heard those dread footsteps of the Roman soldiers approaching him. He knew what was ahead, the horrible death he was about to experience. But imagine his surprise when the prison door was flung open, and a soldier said, “You are free–another man is dying in your place.” Jesus died that day not only in the place of Barabbas, but in the place of you and me. His trials resulted in our freedom.

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “God On Trial” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2019.

Charles Swindoll, “The Darkness And The Dawn” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 83-84.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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