16.01.05 Jn. 19:12-15 Before Pilate in the Antonia Fortress, adjacent to the Temple
PLAY ON PILATE’S LOYALTY
12 From that moment Pilate made every effort to release Him. But the Jews shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!”
13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s bench in a place called the Stone Pavement (but in Hebrew Gabbatha). 14 It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about six in the morning. Then he told the Jews, “Here is your king!”
15 But they shouted, “Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!”
Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?”
“We have no king but Caesar!” the chief priests answered.
The Jewish leaders had an exhausting night and now it was 9:00 in the morning. With Passover nearly upon them, they were relentless and modified their tactics. Previously they sailed twice to Rome and complained to the emperor about the cruel treatment and persecution afforded them by Pilate. He did not want to hear this current accusation because he feared that they would again sail to Rome and tell the emperor he had released a dangerous revolutionary who called himself “king.” This would most certainly cost him his throne. One radical Jew, however innocent, was not worth the risk.
“You are not Caesar’s friend.” The phrase, “friend of Caesar”  was by no means a casual acquaintance. It was a technical term, philokaisar, used to honor loyal senators, prominent soldiers, and outstanding administrators. It was a term envied by every Roman official. This title was reserved for those whom Caesar honored, and such an individual was destined to have a bright future in the empire. It meant that a special allegiance existed with the most powerful man on the face of the earth. What the religious leaders were essentially saying was, “If you let this man go free, you are not Caesar’s friend” and, at this time, that was pure blackmail. Not to have been a friend of Caesar reflects the frequent manipulation of the treason law for political ends in Roman public life. It reflects upon the notable political Latin term – Caesaris amicus – to enforce its point. Philo used the same term in the same manner in his works In Flaccum. Obviously, it was a very serious accusation.
The Sanhedrin manipulated and played upon the emotions of Pilate. They knew that in the previous year he had come under heavy scorn from Emperor Tiberius because he placed some shields with engraved images on the walls of Herod’s palace. These engraved images offended the Jews. Their outrage was so strong that eventually Rome heard of the commotion. The Romans wanted only peace and taxes; they cared little about religion. Hence, Pilate was commanded not to offend them needlessly or he would face possible dismissal. The Sadducees, knowing that Pilate feared dismissal, accused him of not being, “a friend of Caesar.” His fear of Rome would prove to be greater than his fear of God or the Roman gods.
The tyranny of Pilate did not escape the pen of Philo, who recorded some astounding actions of the Roman governor. In his work titled, Legation to Caius, he related a story of the shield that had an image engraved on it, which Pilate attempted to hang in the temple. This was the cause of great confrontation between the Jews and Pilate, and he was willing to use Roman might to accomplish his goal. However, the Jews were willing to die en masse to protect their religion, maintain their tradition, and thereby forced him to rescind his decree. There is no question that he would have eagerly killed them except that he feared rebuke from the emperor. Consequently, he vented his anger against the Jews in every other conceivable manner. Therefore, immediately after this account, Philo attributed rape, murder, insult, and inhumanity to Pilate. He states:
But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared that they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to the other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending and gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.
Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 38
In light of statements like this, it is amazing that Pilate even considered kindness toward Jesus. No doubt this unusual kindness was noticed by Jewish believers when they reflected upon the time their leaders had Jesus crucified and realized that one of the most wicked governors could not find fault with Him. This only increases the guilt of those Sadducees, scribes, and elders who were instrumental in His death.
To add pressure on Pilate, the wealthy Herodians made numerous voyages to Rome where they “wined and dined” with various aristocrats. Since they were close friends with family members of Caesar, there was a constant indirect line of communication from Jerusalem to Rome. Little wonder then that Pilate had to be very careful about what he was to do with Jesus. He was deeply dependent upon and devoted to Rome, and this issue was the fatal point for Jesus. Pilate was unwilling to do what he knew was right.
Roman law required a minimum of a ten-day waiting period between the verdict and the execution of a prisoner, but Pilate submitted to the pressures of the Sanhedrin and ordered Jesus crucified immediately. His weakness and cruelty was evident when he chose to cave in, rather than to risk a riot. On this day, he became a friend of Herod, as well as the Sanhedrin. It is remarkable to what extent the Romans attempted to be fair in this situation. Biblical readers frequently obtain a view of the evils of Rome, but seldom recognize any of their attempts at fairness and justice. The Romans, for example, permitted the Jews to maintain and enforce their own religious laws, as confirmed in John 18:31a.
As stated previously, a major reason why Pilate appeased the Sadducees was that in A.D. 26, Sejanus, his friend and benefactor in Rome, was instrumental in having him appointed to the position of prefect (governor) over the Jews. Thereafter, Sejanus caused political tension in Rome and eventually became involved in a plot to overthrow Caesar. By the time Jesus was on trial, the Roman senate was investigating all persons related to him, including Pilate. Consequently, Pilate feared for his life and position and did not want to lose his amici Caesaris, or “friendship with Caesar” and face execution. That was in the year A.D. 30, when Sejanus was at the height of his power and the emperor’s life was in chaos. Therefore, when the Jews cried out that Pilate was no friend of Caesar, Pilate reflected upon the political turmoil in Rome and all those who had already been executed, imprisoned, or committed suicide. He walked a fine line in Roman politics and reigned from A.D. 26 to 36, the second longest of all rulers, but eventually he paid for his sin.
All those in the highest level of government were concerned about a possible overthrow of the government. To make matters worse, Sejanus hated the Jews with a passion and all those investigating him knew it. Pilate knew that the Jews had, in years past, sent delegations to Rome to complain about their governors. So for them to sail to Rome and to complain about Pilate could easily have tied him in a close connection with Sejanus. Note the words of Philo.
159 Therefore, all people in every country, even if they were not naturally well inclined towards the Jewish nation, took great care not to violate or attack any of the Jewish customs of laws. And in the reign of Tiberius things went on in the same manner, although at that time things in Italy were thrown into a great deal of confusion when Sejanus was preparing to make his attempt against our nation; 160 for he knew immediately after his death that the accusations which had been brought against the Jews who were dwelling in Rome were false calumnies, inventions of Sejanus, who was desirous to destroy our nation, which he knew alone, or above all others, was likely to oppose his unholy counsels and actions in defense of the emperor, who was in great danger of being attacked, in violation of all treaties and of all honesty. 161 And he sent commands to all the governors of provinces in every country to comfort those of our nation in their respective cities, as the punishment intended to be inflicted was not meant to be inflicted upon all, but only on the guilty; and they were but few. And he ordered them to change none of the existing customs, but to look upon them as pledges, since the men were peaceful in their dispositions and natural characters, and their laws trained them and disposed them to quiet and stability.
Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 24:159-161
Therefore, to be a friend of Caesar in that year was very important; and if one was Jewish, its importance was nearly a life or death matter. There is no equal in Western politics to which this could be compared.
However, the long arm of Roman law eventually caught up with Sejanus. In October of A.D. 31 he was tried and executed for attempting to subvert the emperor. Thereafter, peace returned to Rome and the phrase, “friend of Caesar” carried little or no weight. If the crucifixion of Jesus would have occurred in A.D. 33, there would have been no need to make this statement.
“Stone Pavement.” The location of Pilate’s judicial bench – the stone pavement that in Hebrew is Gabbatha, is the subject of debate. Some scholars believe it was in the Antonio Fortress while others believe it was in the western part of Jerusalem where Herod had his palace.
“We have no king but Caesar.” This statement has often been overlooked as an identifier of those who stood before Pilate. The Pharisees, who were extreme legalists, would never have said this. For three years they argued with Jesus about the details of the Law, and even in anger and hatred, they would not have denied their Shema (Deut. 6:1). However, the Sadducees, who were completely Hellenized and always had been faithful and loyal to the Romans.
Since the Sadducees controlled the temple and the Sanhedrin, they were the official leadership of the nation and the Jewish people. This statement was the official declaration that the Jews rejected the God of Abraham, the Messianic hope, and accepted the Roman, self-deified Caesar as their king. The leadership abandoned their long-held view that God alone was their king (1 Sam. 12:12); that only the Lord God of Israel would rule over the children of Abraham (Jg. 8:23). Ironically, the day the Sadducees, and probably some of the School of Shammai as well, made this declaration, was the day they were supposed to praise God for their deliverance from Egypt and affirm their faithfulness to Him. For them to say that Caesar was their king was also to say that he was their lord and god. An astonishing announcement! The renunciation of Israel’s profession to have no king but God, as made in the Passover hymn Nismat kol hay is precisely why Josephus said that the Zealots continuously rebelled against the Romans. What an irony!
While it is difficult to imagine that they would abandon their cultural and theological heritage, they did precisely that to rid themselves of Jesus. They continued in their Jewish traditions, their hearts were obviously nowhere focused toward the God of their forefathers.
16.01.05.Q1 What other issue may have been a challenge for Pilate?
Often Bible students have become so engrossed in the “Jesus” events of the Passion Week, that the possibility that anything else was going on that could have affected Pilate is simply never considered. Jesus was little more than one more case he had to struggle with. He wanted to crucify Barabbas and his two rebel friends, but the Sadducees demanded he be freed, leaving his co-conspirators to die a horrible death.
Along with all the matters of state that any governor had to deal with, throughout the years Jesus ministered there was increased interest in astrology and magic. According to the Chronicle of the Year A.D. 354, Tiberius executed forty-five sorcerers and eighty-five sorceresses, in the years A.D. 16 and 17. These would have been barely more than a decade prior to the ministry of Jesus. In the year A.D. 32, shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, twenty-five were executed with a third of those guilty for conspiracy with Sejanus in the previous years. It is believed that the law that was applied was the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneticis, capital punishment by burning alive for those who murdered by poisoning. The number of people charged increased annually, until the year 32 when Tiberius had the most cases of any year during his reign. One of those is mentioned by Tacitus who wrote of a woman by the name of Numantina. She was accused of casting incantations and spells on her husband causing him to become insane. For this she is believed to have been charged with Lex Cornelia. There can be no question that the religious leaders must have accused Jesus of being a sorcerer before Pilate. If they made that announcement to the people, then they probably did so at this time. As previously stated, in light of the other charges against various individuals, it is utterly amazing that Pilate was so incredibly compassionate with Jesus. It also highlights the false accusations the Sadducees had against Him as a sorcerer.
. Farrar, Life of Christ. 418; Bruce, New Testament History. 32-33; See also 03.06.25; 15.04.02.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 369.
. Farrar, Life of Christ. 431-32; Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 215.
. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 47.
. Philo, In Flaccum. 2.40.
. Some scholars argue that this occurred in the year A.D. 31-32, which, in this writer’s opinion, would have been after the death of Jesus. See Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 719-21.
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 468-69; See John 19:12; 03.06.25; 15.04.02; 16.01.05.
. Yonge, C. D., ed. and trans. The Works of Philo. Legation to Caius also known as “On the Embassy to Gaius,” a chapter of The Works of Philo. 784.
. Dauer, How Jesus Died: The Final 18 Hours. (Video).
. Farrar, Life of Christ. 432-33; Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 199-201.
. Farrar, Life of Christ. 433-34; Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 199-201.
. Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of Crucifixion.” 3-13.
. For more information on this important point, see 03.06.25 and 15.04.02 as well as 03.06.25, “A.D. 22-31 Sejanus, the Arch Enemy of Tiberius Caesar” in Historical Backgrounds.
 This information was repeated by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 2.5, but he mentioned Philo as his source.
. Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 720-23.
. Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 720-24.
. Wieand, “Gabbatha.” 2:373; Payne, “Gabbatha.” 2:618.
. Rensberger, “The Politics of John.” 406.
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6 and Wars 2.8.1; 7.10.1.
. Welch, “Miracles, Maleficium, and Maiestas in the Trial of Jesus.” 373.
. Dickie, Magic and Magicians. 147.
. Welch, “Miracles, Maleficium, and Maiestas in the Trial of Jesus.” 373.
. Tactius, Annals of History. 4.22.
. See 09.01.03.Q1 “What was the significance of the Beelzebub discussion?”