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As we near the crucifixion of Jesus, we begin to see how politics plays a role in so many decisions. The Sanhedrin is trying to balance their popularity with the Jewish people and their standing with powerful leaders in the Roman government. Pontius Pilate is trying to balance how the Sanhedrin portrays him to the Jewish people and what those in Rome are telling Caesar Tiberius about him. King Herod Antipas also has issues with balancing the pressure from the Sanhedrin with the popularity of Jesus.
Luke gives us a very telling statement about the politics of the day when he writes, “That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies” (Luke 23:12). How did they become friends over this issue of what to do with Jesus? Remember that the Sanhedrin is a common thorn-in-the-side for both of them, and the political axiom that still holds to this day says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
I point out all of the political maneuverings during this pivotal time because these political balancing acts are still being played out today and Christians will end up in the crosshairs.
Pilate was trying to appease the Sanhedrin but there was no Roman law that Jesus had broken that was deserving of the death penalty they were demanding. So twice Pilate tells these religious leaders, “I will punish Him and then release Him.” In fact, without waiting for their approval, Pilate subjects Jesus to the tortuous punishment known as flagellation (Luke 23:13-22; John 19:1-11).
I think Pilate believed that if they saw Jesus so humiliated and beaten down they would back off from their desire for His death. But Pilate miscalculated their commitment to seeing Jesus eliminated from the scene.
Pilate finally gives in and says, “You take Him and crucify Him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him.” But the Jewish religious leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God.”
If you have ever watched a movie about the gladiatorial games in the Roman Colosseum, you’ve probably viewed the scene where one combatant is disarmed and helpless. Before the victor strikes his deathblow he will look to Caesar in the stands. The Roman Caesar will either give a thumbs-up signal to pardon the victim or he will give a thumbs-down signal to send the defeated one to their death.
Pilate has this same authority here in the region of Judea. The Sanhedrin knew Pilate had the power of life and death, so did the convicted prisoner Barabbas, and so did Jesus.
Pilate asks Jesus, “Don’t You realize I have power either to free You or to crucify You?”
There was another king who called himself “king of kings” but God called him “My servant.” He was King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Daniel, an exile from Israel who was Nebuchadnezzar’s prime minister, reminded him where his authority originated, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:17).
In the same way, Jesus addressed Pilate, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.”
John Piper wrote: “This does not intimidate Jesus because Pilate’s authority over Jesus is subordinate to God’s authority over Pilate. Jesus gets His comfort at this moment not because Pilate’s will is powerless, but because Pilate’s will is guided. Not because Jesus isn’t in the hands of Pilate’s fear, but because Pilate is in the hands of Jesus’s Father.”
Jesus shows us an important principle: Should we respect our leaders (even the ungodly ones)? Yes! Should we fear them? No!
We don’t fear them because their power is limited to just this life and is under the control of the Most High God (Luke 12:4). Peter and John learned this lesson well, as we see in their interaction with the same Sanhedrin that turned Jesus over to Pilate (see Acts 4:1-10). What Jesus and these apostles demonstrate for us is respectful boldness.
In light of this, here are five things Christians should keep in mind. When persecution comes against us, we should respond like this:
- Be prepared—Matthew 5:11-12; John 15:20
- Be respectful—1 Peter 2:17
- Be loving—Matthew 5:44
- Be prayerful—Acts 4:27-30
- Be bold—Acts 4:18-20
(Check out all of the above Scriptures by clicking here.)
Jesus taught us there is a time for eloquent silence, but when the Holy Spirit needs us to speak, He will give us the respectfully bold words to share. Jesus said,
On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:18-20)
Respectful? Yes. Fearful? No. Respectful, loving, prayerful boldness is how we will glorify the Most High God in the face of persecution.
If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series of Bold Claims, you can find them all here.
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