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John 18:40

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Barabbas was a robber - See Matthew 27:16. The later Syriac has in the margin, αρχιλῃστης, a chief robber, a captain of banditti, and it is probable that this was the case. He was not only a person who lived by plunder, but shed the blood of many of those whom he and his gang robbed, and rose up against the Roman government, as we learn from Luke 23:19. There never existed a more perfidious, cruel, and murderous people than these Jews; and no wonder they preferred a murderer to the Prince of peace. Christ himself had said, If ye were of the world, the world would love its own. Like cleaves to like: hence we need not be surprised to find the vilest things still preferred to Christ, his kingdom, and his salvation.

  1. It is not easy to give the character of Pilate. From the manner of his conduct, we scarcely can tell when he is in jest or in earnest. He appears to have been fully convinced of the innocence of Christ; and that the Jews, through envy and malice, desired his destruction. On this ground he should have released him; but he was afraid to offend the Jews. He knew they were an uneasy, factious, and seditious people; and he was afraid to irritate them. Fiat justitia, ruat caelum! was no motto of his. For fear of the clamors of this bad people, he permitted all the forms and requisitions of justice to be outraged, and abandoned the most innocent Jesus to their rage and malice. In this case he knew what was truth, but did not follow its dictates; and he as hastily abandoned the author of it as he did the question he had asked concerning it. Pilate, it is true, was disposed to pity - the Jews were full of malice and cruelty. They both, however, joined in the murder of our Lord. The most that we can say for Pilate is, that he was disposed to justice, but was not inclined to hazard his comfort or safety in doing it. He was an easy, pliable man, who had no objection to do a right thing if it should cost him no trouble; but he felt no disposition to make any sacrifice, even in behalf of innocence, righteousness, and truth. In all the business Pilate showed that he was not a good man; and the Jews proved that they were of their father, the devil. See John 19:8.
  • As Dr. Lightfoot has entered into a regular examination of when and how the Jews lost the power of life and death in criminal cases, it may be necessary to lay before the reader a copious abstract of his researches on this subject, founded on John 18:31.
  • "It cannot be denied that all capital judgment, or sentence upon life, had been taken from the Jews for above forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, as they oftentimes themselves confess. But how came this to pass? It is commonly received that the Romans, at this time the Jews' lords and masters, had taken from all their courts a power and capacity of judging the capital matters. Let us superadd a few things here. Rabh Cahna saith, When R. Ismael bar Jose lay sick, they sent to him, saying, Pray, sir, tell us two or three things which thou didst once tell us in the name of thy Father. He saith to them, A hundred and fourscore years before the destruction of the temple, the wicked kingdom (the Roman empire) reigned over Israel, fourscore years before the destruction of the temple, they (the fathers of the Sanhedrin) determined about the uncleanness of the heathen land, and about glass vessels. Forty years before the destruction of the temple, the Sanhedrin removed and sat in the Taberne. What is the meaning of this tradition? Rabbi Isaac bar Abdimi saith, They did not judge judgments of mulcts. The gloss is, Those are the judgments about fining any that offered violence, that entice a maid, and the price of a servant. When, therefore, they did not sit in the room Gazith, they did not judge about these things, and so those judgments about mulcts or fines ceased. Avodoh Zarah. fol. 82. Here we have one part of their judiciary power lost; not taken away from them by the Romans, but falling of itself, as it were, out of the hands of the Sanhedrin. Nor did the Romans indeed take away their power of judging in capital matters; but they, by their own oscitancy, supine and unreasonable lenity, lost it themselves, for so the Gemara goes on: Rabh Hachman bar Isaac saith, Let him not say that they did not judge judgments of mulcts, for they did not judge capital judgments either. And whence comes this? When they saw that so many murders and homicides multiplied upon them that they could not well judge and call them to account, they said, It is better for us that we remove from place to place; for how can we otherwise (sitting here and not punishing them) not contract guilt upon ourselves?

    "They thought themselves obliged to punish murderers while they sat in the room Gazith, for the place itself engaged them to it. They are the words of the Gemarists, upon which the gloss. The room Gazith was half of it within, and half of it without, the holy place. The reason of which was, that it was requisite that the council should sit near the Divine Majesty. Hence it is that they say, Whoever constitutes an unfit judge is as if he planted a grove by the altar of the Lord, as it is written, Judges and officers shalt thou make thee; and it follows presently after, Thou shalt not plant thee a grove near the altar of the Lord thy God, Deuteronomy 16:18, Deuteronomy 16:21. They removed therefore from Gazith, and sat in the Taberne; now though the Taberne were upon the mountain of the temple, yet they did not sit so near the Divine Majesty there as they did when they sat in the room Gazith.

    "Let us now in order put the whole matter together.

    "I. The Sanhedrin were most stupidly and unreasonably remiss in their punishment of capital offenders; going upon this reason especially, that they counted it so horrible a thing to put an Israelite to death. Forsooth, he is of the seed of Abraham, of the blood and stock of Israel, and you must have a care how you touch such a one!

    "R. Eliezer bar Simeon had laid hold on some thieves. R. Joshua bar Korchah sent to him, saying, O thou vinegar, the son of good wine! (i.e. O thou wicked son of a good father!) how long wilt thou deliver the people of God to the slaughter! He answered and said, I root the thorns out of the vineyard. To whom the other: Let the Lord of the vineyard come and root them out himself. Bava Meziah, fol. 83, 2. It is worth noting, that the very thieves of Israel are the people of God; and they must not be touched by any man, but referred to the judgment of God himself!

    "When R. Ismael bar R. Jose was constituted a magistrate by the king, there happened some such thing to him; for Elias himself rebuked him, saying, How long wilt thou deliver over the people of God to slaughter! Ibid. fol. 64, 1. Hence that which we alleged elsewhere: The Sanhedrin that happens to sentence any one to death within the space of seven years, is termed a destroyer. R. Eliezer ben Azariah saith it is so, if they should but condemn one within seventy years. Maccoth, fol. 7, 1.

    "II. It is obvious to any one how this foolish remissness, and letting loose the reins of judgment, would soon increase the numbers of robbers, murderers, and all kinds of wickedness; and indeed they did so abundantly multiply that the Sanhedrin neither could nor durst, as it ought, call the criminals to account. The law slept, while wickedness was in the height of its revels; and punitive justice was so out of countenance that as to uncertain murders they made no search, and against certain ones they framed no judgement. Since the time that homicides multiplied, the beheading the heifer ceased. Sotoh, fol. 47, 1. And in the place before quoted in Avodah: When they saw the numbers of murderers so greatly increase that they could not sit in judgment upon them, they said, Let us remove, etc., fol. 8, 2. So in the case of adultery, which we also observed in our notes on John 8:3-11. Since the time that adultery so openly advanced, under the second temple, they left off trying the adultress by the bitter water, etc. Mainaon. in Sotoh, cap. 3.

    "So that, we see, the liberty of judging in capital matters was no more taken from the Jews by the Romans than the beheading of the heifer, or the trial of the suspected wife by the bitter waters, was taken away by them, which no one will affirm. It is a tradition of R. Chaia, from the day wherein the temple was destroyed, though the Sanhedrin ceased, yet the four kinds of death (which were wont to be inflicted by the Sanhedrin) did not cease. For he that had deserved to be stoned to death, either fell off from some house, or some wild beast tore and devoured him. He that had deserved burning, either fell into some fire, or some serpent bit him. He that had deserved to be slain (i.e. with the sword) was either delivered into the hands of some heathen king, or was murdered by robbers. He that had deserved strangling, was either drowned in some river, or choked by a squinancy.

    "This must be observed from the evangelists, that when they had Christ in examination in the palace of the high priest all night, in the morning the whole Sanhedrin met that they might pass sentence of death upon him. Where then was this that they met? Questionless in the room Gazith - at least if they adhered to their own rules and constitutions: Thither they betook themselves sometimes upon urgent necessity. The gloss before quoted excepts only the case of murder, with which, amongst all their false accusations, they never charged Christ.

    "But, however, suppose it were granted that the great council met either in the Taberne, or some other place, (which yet agreed by no means with their own tradition), did they deal truly, and as the matter really and indeed was, with Pilate, when they tell him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death? He had said to them, Take ye him and judge him according to your laws. We have indeed judged and condemned him, but we cannot put any one to death. Was this that they said in fact true? How came they then to stone the proto-martyr Stephen? How came they to stone Ben Sarda at Lydda? Hieros. Sanhed. fol. 25, 4. How came they to burn the priest's daughter alive that was taken in adultery? Bab. Sanhed. fol. 52, 1, and 51, 1. It is probable that they had not put any one to death as yet, since the time that they had removed out of Gazith, and so might the easier persuade Pilate in that case. But their great design was to throw off the odium of Christ's death from themselves; at least among the vulgar crowd; fearing them, if the council should have decreed his execution. They seek this evasion, therefore, which did not altogether want some color and pretext of truth; and it succeeded according to what they desired. Divine Providence so ordering it as the evangelist intimates, John 18:32, That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake signifying what death he should die: that is, be crucified according to the custom of the Romans. While I am upon this thought, I cannot but reflect upon that passage, than which nothing is more worthy observation in the whole description of the Roman beast in the Revelation, Revelation 13:4. The dragon which gave power to the beast. We cannot say this of the Assyrian, Babylonish, or any other monarchy; for the Holy Scriptures do not say it. But reason dictates, and the event itself tells us, that there was something acted by the Roman empire in behalf of the dragon, which was not compatible with any other, that is, the putting of the Son of God to death. Which thing we must remember as often as we recite that article of our creed, 'He suffered under Pontius Pilate,' that is, was put to death by the Roman empire,"

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Art thou the King of the Jews? that King of the Jews who has been so long expected? Messiah the Prince; art thou he? Dost thou call thyself so, and wouldest thou be thought so? Christ answered this question with another; not for evasion, but that Pilate might consider what he did. He never took upon him any earthly power, never were any traitorous principles or practices laid to him. Christ gave an account of the nature of his kingdom. Its nature is not worldly; it is a kingdom within men, set up in their hearts and consciences; its riches spiritual, its power spiritual, and it glory within. Its supports are not worldly; its weapons are spiritual; it needed not, nor used, force to maintain and advance it, nor opposed any kingdom but that of sin and Satan. Its object and design are not worldly. When Christ said, I am the Truth, he said, in effect, I am a King. He conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth. The subjects of this kingdom are those that are of the truth. Pilate put a good question, he said, What is truth? When we search the Scriptures, and attend the ministry of the word, it must be with this inquiry, What is truth? and with this prayer, Lead me in thy truth; into all truth. But many put this question, who have not patience to preserve in their search after truth; or not humility enough to receive it. By this solemn declaration of Christ's innocence, it appears, that though the Lord Jesus was treated as the worst of evil-doers, he never deserved such treatment. But it unfolds the design of his death; that he died as a Sacrifice for our sins. Pilate was willing to please all sides; and was governed more by worldly wisdom than by the rules of justice. Sin is a robber, yet is foolishly chosen by many rather than Christ, who would truly enrich us. Let us endeavour to make our accusers ashamed as Christ did; and let us beware of crucifying Christ afresh.
    Ellen G. White
    The Acts of the Apostles, 43

    Now they heard the disciples declaring that it was the Son of God who had been crucified. Priests and rulers trembled. Conviction and anguish seized the people. “They were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Among those who listened to the disciples were devout Jews, who were sincere in their belief. The power that accompanied the words of the speaker convinced them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. AA 43.1

    “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” AA 43.2

    Peter urged home upon the convicted people the fact that they had rejected Christ because they had been deceived by priests and rulers; and that if they continued to look to these men for counsel, and waited for them to acknowledge Christ before they dared to do so, they would never accept Him. These powerful men, though making a profession of godliness, were ambitious for earthly riches and glory. They were not willing to come to Christ to receive light. AA 43.3

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 739

    Looking upon the smitten Lamb of God, the Jews had cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” That awful cry ascended to the throne of God. That sentence, pronounced upon themselves, was written in heaven. That prayer was heard. The blood of the Son of God was upon their children and their children's children, a perpetual curse. DA 739.1

    Terribly was it realized in the destruction of Jerusalem. Terribly has it been manifested in the condition of the Jewish nation for eighteen hundred years,—a branch severed from the vine, a dead, fruitless branch, to be gathered up and burned. From land to land throughout the world, from century to century, dead, dead in trespasses and sins! DA 739.2

    Terribly will that prayer be fulfilled in the great judgment day. When Christ shall come to the earth again, not as a prisoner surrounded by a rabble will men see Him. They will see Him then as heaven's King. Christ will come in His own glory, in the glory of His Father, and the glory of the holy angels. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels, the beautiful and triumphant sons of God, possessing surpassing loveliness and glory, will escort Him on His way. Then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations. Then every eye shall see Him, and they also that pierced Him. In the place of a crown of thorns, He will wear a crown of glory,—a crown within a crown. In place of that old purple kingly robe, He will be clothed in raiment of whitest white, “so as no fuller on earth can white them.” Mark 9:3. And on His vesture and on His thigh a name will be written, “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Revelation 19:16. Those who mocked and smote Him will be there. The priests and rulers will behold again the scene in the judgment hall. Every circumstance will appear before them, as if written in letters of fire. Then those who prayed, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” will receive the answer to their prayer. Then the whole world will know and understand. They will realize who and what they, poor, feeble, finite beings, have been warring against. In awful agony and horror they will cry to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Revelation 6:16, 17. DA 739.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 409

    Oh, how many things have developed since he became so full of hatred against God because his dangers and wrongs were brought before him! He has allowed wicked thoughts to strengthen and prevail because, day by day, he has not eaten of the flesh and drunk of the blood of the Son of God, because he has not become a partaker of the divine nature. The things which come from within defile the man. How corrupt then must be the source from which these evils have taken their rise! TM 409.1

    Unsanctified ministers are arraying themselves against God. They are praising Christ and the god of this world in the same breath. While professedly they receive Christ, they embrace Barabbas, and by their actions say, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Let all who read these lines, take heed. Satan has made his boast of what he can do. He thinks to dissolve the unity which Christ prayed might exist in His church. He says, “I will go forth and be a lying spirit to deceive those that I can, to criticize, and condemn, and falsify.” Let the son of deceit and false witness be entertained by a church that has had great light, great evidence, and that church will discard the message the Lord has sent, and receive the most unreasonable assertions and false suppositions and false theories. Satan laughs at their folly, for he knows what truth is. TM 409.2

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 723-40

    This chapter is based on Matthew 27:2, 11-31; Mark 15:1-20; Luke 23:1-25; John 18:28-40; John 19:1-16

    In the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman governor, Christ stands bound as a prisoner. About Him are the guard of soldiers, and the hall is fast filling with spectators. Just outside the entrance are the judges of the Sanhedrin, priests, rulers, elders, and the mob. DA 723.1

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    Ellen G. White
    Early Writings, 172-5

    For a short time vexation and confusion kept the priests silent. They did not wish the people to know that they had hired one of the professed followers of Jesus to betray Him into their hands. Their hunting Jesus like a thief and taking Him secretly, they wished to hide. But the confession of Judas, and his haggard, guilty appearance, exposed the priests before the multitude, showing that it was hatred that had caused them to take Jesus. As Judas loudly declared Jesus to be innocent, the priests replied, “What is that to us? see thou to that.” They had Jesus in their power, and were determined to make sure of Him. Judas, overwhelmed with anguish, threw the money that he now despised at the feet of those who had hired him, and, in anguish and horror, went and hanged himself. EW 172.1

    Jesus had many sympathizers in the company about Him, and His answering nothing to the many questions put to Him amazed the throng. Under all the mockery and violence of the mob, not a frown, not a troubled expression, rested upon His features. He was dignified and composed. The spectators looked upon Him with wonder. They compared His perfect form and firm, dignified bearing with the appearance of those who sat in judgment against Him, and said to one another that He appeared more like a king than any of the rulers. He bore no marks of being a criminal. His eye was mild, clear, and undaunted, His forehead broad and high. Every feature was strongly marked with benevolence and noble principle. His patience and forbearance were so unlike man that many trembled. Even Herod and Pilate were greatly troubled at His noble, Godlike bearing. EW 172.2

    From the first, Pilate was convicted that Jesus was no common man. He believed Him to be an excellent character, and entirely innocent of the charges brought against Him. The angels who were witnessing the scene marked the convictions of the Roman governor, and to save him from engaging in the awful act of delivering Christ to be crucified, an angel was sent to Pilate's wife, and gave her information through a dream that it was the Son of God in whose trial her husband was engaged, and that He was an innocent sufferer. She immediately sent a message to Pilate, stating that she had suffered many things in a dream on account of Jesus and warning him to have nothing to do with that holy man. The messenger, pressing hastily through the crowd, placed the letter in the hands of Pilate. As he read, he trembled and turned pale, and at once determined to have nothing to do with putting Christ to death. If the Jews would have the blood of Jesus, he would not give his influence to it, but would labor to deliver Him. EW 173.1

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    Ellen G. White
    The Upward Look, 90.4

    Pilate pronounced Christ innocent, declaring that he found no fault in Him. Yet to please the Jews, he commanded Him to be scourged and then delivered Him up, bruised and bleeding, to suffer the cruel death of crucifixion. The Majesty of heaven was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and amid scoffing and jeers, ridicule and false accusation, He was nailed to the cross. The crowd, in whose hearts humanity seemed to be dead, sought to aggravate the cruel sufferings of the Son of God by their revilings. But as a sheep before His shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. He was giving His life for the life of the world, that all who believed in Him should not perish.... UL 90.4

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