Chapter 12: Pilate Appeals to the Divine Court

Chapter 12
Pilate Appeals to the Divine Court


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

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

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

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

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

Pilate Washes His Hands

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

Apparently, Pilate was familiar with this law, although he knew nothing of its spiritual meaning. Deut. 21:6-9 says,

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

Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. In washing his hands, he applied the divine law to his own situation in front of the entire crowd that was calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. In essence, he was saying, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it.” As a result, Pilate was vindicated and should not be accused of crucifying Jesus.

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

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

In Jesus’ case, Caiaphas pronounced Jesus guilty of blasphemy, assuming ahead of time that Jesus was not the Messiah. Hence, when he adjured Jesus, and when Jesus spoke the whole truth, Caiaphas assumed that Jesus lied before the divine court. If he had followed the law of God, Caiaphas would have known that by adjuring Jesus he was appealing the case to the divine court already.

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

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

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

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

The Heifer

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

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

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

The 29th Chapter of Acts

The book of Acts (as we have received it) contains only 28 chapters and is known to be incomplete. It ends abruptly and has no conclusion. But in the Sonnini manuscript, which includes a 29th chapter of Acts, we read how Paul was acquitted in his first appearance before Nero, and how he traveled to Spain and Britain. It says that Paul returned through Helvetia (Switzerland), where Pontius Pilate had been exiled and where he committed suicide.

In this manuscript, Acts 29:18-23 reads,

18 And after much preaching and toil, Paul and his fellow laborers passed into Helvetia and came unto Mount Pontius Pilate, where he who condemned the Lord Jesus dashed himself down headlong and so miserably perished. 19 And immediately a torrent gushed out of the mountain and washed his body, broken in pieces, into a lake. 20 And Paul stretched forth his hands upon the water and prayed unto the Lord, saying, “O Lord God, give a sign unto all nations that here Pontius Pilate, which condemned Thine only begotten Son, plunged headlong into the pit.” 21 And while Paul was yet speaking, behold, there came a great earthquake, and the face of the waters was changed, and the form of the lake like unto the Son of Man hanging in an agony upon the cross. 22 And a voice came out of heaven, saying, “Even Pilate hath escaped the wrath to come, for he washed his hands before the multitude at the blood shedding of the Lord Jesus.” 23 When, therefore, Paul and those that were with him saw the earthquake and heard the voice of the angel, they glorified God and were mightily strengthened in spirit.

This account acquits Pilate of any blame for the crucifixion of Christ. As for the authenticity of the Sonnini Manuscript, Sonnini was a French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) under the French King Louis XVI. The sultan, Abdoul Achmet, gave him this manuscript as a gift and he published it along with an account of his travels in the early 1800’s. Major Samuels, in his book, Far Hence Unto the Gentiles, argues for its authenticity:

“Louis XVI reigned from A.D. 1774-1793, when the French Revolution began, so that M. Sonnini must have published his Book of Travel in Turkey and Greece sometime between those two dates … It is absurd to suggest that he deliberately invented this manuscript. What possible reason could he have for so doing? What did people know or care about the Druids or St. Paul in his day? Moreover, if he had possessed the necessary knowledge to perpetrate a literary forgery of this description, would he have resisted the temptation to glorify his own country in preference to that of England, France’s bitterest enemy, at that time? … Its preservation was no doubt due to the fact that it fell into, and remained in, the custody of the Turks at Constantinople instead of falling into the hands of the Western Christian Church at Rome.”

The full text of the 29th chapter of Acts in the Sonnini manuscript is reproduced in Appendix 1 of Lessons in Church History, Vol. 1. Regardless of its authenticity, however, it is of interest to us that it sets forth an angelic witness of Pilate’s innocence.

As to the question of its place in the canon of the New Testament, I cannot say. It is unfortunate that Ivan Panin did not know of its existence so that he could test for any numeric patterns. In any case, I believe that God did not intend for this chapter to be included in the book of Acts, because it reveals that Paul preached to Britons who were of the tribes of Israel. In fact, Acts 29:13 says,

13 And it came to pass that certain of the Druids came unto Paul privately and showed by their rites and ceremonies they were descended from the Judahites which escaped from bondage in the land of Egypt; and the apostle believed these things, and he gave them the kiss of peace.

It is unlikely that Sonnini himself would have known anything about this history, nor would he (as a Frenchman in that day) have contrived to write falsified history that brought glory to Britain. In the end, God intended for Israel to be lost, so this chapter had to be lost.

The Mocking Soldiers

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

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

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

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

The flesh originally was supposed to manifest in earth that which is in heaven. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God. However, when sin entered the world, the flesh began to mock the spirit. In other words, the likeness was perverted and distorted.

This is, I believe, the revelation of the mockery that occurred after Jesus’ trial, which was also prophesied by Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac. Hence, first the chief priests held a mockery of a trial, and then the soldiers mocked Jesus as well. This exposes the absurdity of sinful flesh in its attempt to act in the likeness of God.