xviii. 24, 25, 26, 27 Annas therefore sent Him bound unto Caiaphas, the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing warming himself. They said therefore unto him, Art thou also one of His disciples? He denied, and said, I am not. One of the servants of the high priest, being a kinsman of him whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with Him? Peter therefore denied again: and straightway the cock crew.
The inspired Evangelist, to our profit, checks the course of his narrative, like a horse at full speed, and turns it back again. And why? Because he was bound, before narrating what next ensued, to point out to us Peter’s third denial; and this event is best and most appropriately described as it occurred. He therefore designedly refers to what took place at first, and says, that Jesus was sent by Annas to Caiaphas; and shows us that Peter was questioned by the servants who were warming themselves with him at the fire, and also by a kinsman of him whom he had smitten; and that this was the occasion of his third denial. Then He mentions the crowing of the cock, making, it plain to us that no word of our Saviour ever falls to the ground; for He had foreknown and foretold the frailty of His own disciple in the midst of danger. Perhaps the divinely taught compiler of this book would have made no mention at all of this fact, had he not bethought himself of the captious |591 spirit and ceaseless babbling of the adversaries of God. For some of those who seek to make bitter war on the glory of the Saviour would straightway have said: “Show us the denial of Peter, and how, and where, that came to pass which was foretold by Christ, Who, you say, cannot lie. For you maintain that He is Truth, and that He proceedeth from a Father Who is true.” It was very essential, therefore, that the inspired Evangelist should narrate to us this occurrence, and show that Christ at all times said what was true.
But perhaps some opponent, abstaining from bringing any such attack against us, will bring a grievous charge against Peter, and accuse the well-beloved disciple of incomparable cowardice, and say that he was so ready to make this verbal repudiation of his Lord, as thrice to fall away and deny Him, when he had not so much as had any actual experience of danger, and when peril was not, indeed, nigh at hand. Talk of this sort may be suitable to those who are not yet initiated in the faith; but I will at once dismiss it, and, bidding farewell to such nonsense, will attempt to make some excuse for the Apostle’s conduct, setting forth my argument for the benefit of those who are already accustomed to reflect upon the mysteries contained in the mysterious working of Divine Providence. For it was the bounden duty of the wise Evangelist to make mention of such things, that his hearers might know what even the teachers of the world were in themselves before Christ’s Resurrection, and before the Holy Spirit descended upon them; and what they were thereafter, when they had received the grace of the Spirit, Which Christ called power from on high. For any one may see how very jealous they were in assuming virtue; how readily they girded up their loins to follow Christ, and to overcome perils of every sort which they so frequently encountered. But when our Saviour Christ had not yet subdued the power of death, the fear thereof was still stubborn, and altogether invincible; and they who had not yet received the Spirit, nor had their |592 hearts steeled by grace from above, showed that their minds were not yet wholly free from human frailty, and they were not altogether unshaken by the terrors of death. For just as iron, though naturally strong, cannot encounter without injury the harder kinds of stone, if it be not strengthened in the forge; so the soul of man may be buoyed up with unslacking enthusiasm for every thing that is good, but can never be triumphant in the conflicts that so arise, except it be first perfected by the grace of the Spirit of God. Even the disciples, therefore, themselves were frail at first; but, when they had received the Spirit of Almighty God, cast aside their native weakness, and, by communion with Him, attained to exceeding boldness.
It was expedient, then, that the frailty of the Saints should be recorded to the praise and glory of God, Who changed their weakness into power, and raised up, like a strong tower, their spirits, which were easily daunted even by slight dangers, and at times broken down by the mere apprehension of suffering. And that which befell a single one, or some few of the Saints, may afford us at the same time a lesson and a consolation. For we are taught thereby, not, through dwelling on our own infirmities inconsiderately, to slacken in God’s service, but rather to trust in Him Who is able to make us all strong, and to boast ourselves in His miraculous works and favour shown to us beyond hope.
28 They lead Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the palace: and it was early; and they themselves entered not into the palace, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the passover.
Judge righteous judgment, and Thou shalt not slay the innocent and just man, were the express injunctions of the Law and the Word of God. These miserable men could not help being ashamed of their lack of charges against Him; but, finding their fury against Christ to be without excuse, and being prevented from killing Him |593 with their own hands by the approach of the atoning sacrifice (for they were about to sacrifice the Paschal lamb, according to the Law, which yet with them had lost its power), they bring Him to Pilate; trusting, in their gross folly, that they would not be quite implicated in the charge of shedding blood unjustly if they did not slay Him themselves, but only brought Him to suffer death at the hands of another; though what was in their hearts was altogether at variance with the Mosaic Law. And we must convict them, besides, of the greatest folly in acting as follows. For, while sentencing the sinless One to the doom of death, and bringing down upon their own heads the guilt of so frightful an impiety, they yet shun the threshold of the judgment hall, as though it would cause them to be defiled, and anxiously shrink from having intercourse with men who were still unclean. For they believed, I suppose, that stones, and the bodies of men who were their brethren, could defile the soul of man; but deemed that the worst of all crimes, the most unjust shedding of blood, stained them not a whit. And, marvel of marvels, the most absurd and irrational idea of all, they think themselves purified by the slaughter of a lamb, which typified for us nothing but the shadow of the mystery that is in Christ; and, while honouring the type of what is coming to pass, they scorn the reality itself. For while they were performing that which was but the semblance of His Atonement, they were defiled by the shedding of the Blood of Christ. Christ, then, said well when He called them whited sepulchres, outwardly adorned with the superficial embellishments of art, but inwardly full of evil odours and detestable impurity; and when, in another place, He said that they strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel. For while they were often exact about matters that were, so to say, wholly unimportant and insignificant, or, rather, about a mere nothing (for what is the gnat?), they made of no account the most weighty of all the charges against themselves, and made |594 clean the outside of the cup and platter, while they regarded not at all the uncleanness within. For see how, though the prophet Jeremiah said plainly: Wash thy heart from wickedness, O Jerusalem, that thou mayest be saved, they were thoroughly convinced that the inward impiety of the soul mattered not a whit; and, when they brought Christ to Pilate, they shrank from places as accursed, and from the bodies of uncircumcised men; and if they did not commit the lawless act with their own hands, they yet made Pilate, as it were, minister to their cruelty, and in their stupidity imagined that they remained free from all blame. It may well excite our wonder to find that the holy prophets were well aware even of this impiety of theirs; for the blessed Isaiah said concerning them: Woe unto the wicked I for the reward of his hands shall be given him. And Ezekiel also: As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head. Moreover, the inspired Psalmist exclaims: Render to them their desert; give them according to the work of their hands. For as they led Christ, the Saviour of all, captive to the Roman officers, so they received in their turn their reward, and were abandoned to the dominion of Rome, and were spoiled by the hand of their conquerors. For so fearful was the war that was kindled against them, and so frightful the extremities in which they were involved, that, if it had been possible, some, nay many, among them would rather have chosen to go into the mountains and rocks, and die there, before they saw the war—-a choice which Christ foretold that they would make, when He said: When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then shall ye say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.
29 Pilate therefore went out unto them, and saith, What accusation bring ye against this Man?
They shrank from the pollution, as they deemed it, of stones and walls, but Pilate went forth and inquired of |595 them the reason of their coming to him, and required them to tell him the charges against the Captive they had brought unto him, judging the leaders of the Jews on the other hand. For, though he was a foreigner, he held in respect the ordinances of the Jews, and treated with consideration their prevailing customs. For he hastened out of the judgment hall, as was not his habit, expressing to the Jews by this significant action that their Law ought to be observed. They, being contrariwise minded to the Divine commandments, and paying very little heed to the Mosaic dispensation, were bringing about an unrighteous blood-shedding; while Pilate, who was outside the pale of the Law, inquired the charges, and investigated the accusations, they brought against Him, and pointed out to them, that it was absurd to chastise or exact a penalty from a Man Who had done no sin. And they, though they had nothing to say against Him, brought Him to Pilate, like a fierce robber. Well, then, was it said to the Synagogue of the Jews: Sodom has been justified by thee; and Christ Himself cries out, accusing the madness that the children of Israel here showed: Thou hast not done according to the judgments of the nations round about. And the saying is true; for the Greeks would not with defiled and unwashed hands have brought the usual sacrifices to the stones and blocks of wood they conceived to be gods, nor would they have destroyed one, unless it was in the most evil plight; but the Jews, though about to sacrifice the Passover to the true God, had their souls stained with the guilt of innocent blood, and were hastening to put to death unjustly Him Who was a stranger to all sin.
30 They answered and said unto him, If this Man were not an evil-doer, we should not have delivered Him up unto thee.
They were perplexed for a specious plea against Him, but cloak the baseness of their impiety, and their apparent resolution to put Him to death unjustly, by the sophistical reply, that they would never have brought |596 Jesus to suffer justice, if they had not taken Him in a criminal act. For they still affected to observe the Law, which bade them execute righteous judgment in all things; and, marvellous to relate, they use their respect for the Law as a weapon against the Lawgiver. They, who did not shrink from bringing an accusation against the Lawgiver, claimed credit as keepers of the Law. They declared that He That had come to take away sin had done evil, that the truth of the words that Christ spake, by the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah, might be seen: Woe unto them! for they have fled from Me: their doom is misery, because they have transgressed against Me. Though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against Me.
31 Pilate therefore said unto them, Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your Law.
I should not do justice, he says, if I were to subject to legal penalties a Man Who has been convicted of no wrong, and Whose doom you left undecided; but judge Him, rather, according to your Law, if, indeed, he says, it has ordained that the Man Who is wholly without guilt deserves chastisement. It is not a little absurd, or, I should rather say, it is a subject for perpetual regret, that, while the Law of the Gentiles justified our Lord, so that even Pilate shrank from punishing Him That was. brought to him on so vague a charge, they, who made it their boast that they were instructed in the Law of God, declared that He ought to be put to death.
31, 32 The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spake, signifying by what manner of death He should die.
They answer, that their purification, accomplished by the slaughter of the Paschal lamb (if any purification at all were possible for such murderers), stood in their way, and was, as it were, an overpowering obstacle to their |597 shedding His innocent Blood. For, surely, they would have been very ready to commit the impious crime, and would not have needed the co-operation of any other. The Jewish mind was very prone to work every kind of evil deed, and to shrink from no atrocity; and to feel no shame at doing anything displeasing to God. They deemed it right for Pilate to lend them the service of his own cruelty, and to’ imitate the fury of the Jews, and to minister to them on this occasion, and to be by them overruled, so as to partake of their madness. And this also they say, that Christ might be proved to speak truth, and to have foreknown what manner of death He would die, and to have foretold it to His holy disciples. For what spake He unto them? Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man is betrayed unto the hands of sinners; and they shall crucify Him, and kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised up. It is requisite to make mention of this. For it was necessary that He should have this foreknowledge, that none might suppose that He, in Whose sight all things are naked and laid open, encountered His death involuntarily; but that men should believe that, of His own Will, He underwent the Cross on our behalf, and for our sakes.
33 Pilate therefore entered again into the palace, and called Jesus, and said unto Him. Art Thou the King of the Jews?
Having nothing at all to accuse Him of, and none of those crimes to allege against Him, which seem to bring in their train just punishment on the doers of them, and Pilate persisting in inquiring why they had brought Him, they assert that Jesus had sinned against Caesar, in assuming on Himself the dominion which Caesar had acquired over the Jews, and in changing the glory of his kingdom to suit His personal pretensions. Great was the malice which suggested this device, and caused the false accusation to assume this shape; for they knew that Pilate, however reluctant he might be, would take |598 thought for his own safety, and would swiftly and precipitately punish the man against whom any such outcry was raised. For, as the inhabitants of Judaea ever were continually moved to tumults and civil strife, and were easily provoked to revolt, Caesar’s officers were the more vigilant in this respect, and were more careful guardians of order, and inflicted the most summary penalties on men who had this charge brought against them, sometimes groundlessly. The Jews, therefore, make it a charge against Christ, that He reigned over Israel. Therefore justly were they cast out, and the Gentiles brought in, and made subject to the yoke, and put into the Kingdom of Christ. Ask of Me, He says, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession. For when the one nation of the Jews provoked Him to wrath, all the nations of the world are given to Christ; and instead of one country, I mean Judaea, the uttermost parts of the earth. For, as Paul saith: Their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles. Pilate, then, speaks out plainly what he heard the Jews muttering, and bids Jesus answer him, whether He was in truth the King of the Jews. He was full of anxiety, it would appear, and thought Caesar’s rule was menaced, and was, therefore, very desirous to learn the truth, in order to visit what had been done with appropriate retribution, and acquit of blame the office entrusted to him by the Romans.
34 Jesus answered, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning Me?
As no one, He says, has openly brought this charge against Me, whence proceeds your question? There can be no doubt that this trick proceeds from the malice of the Jews, and that they devised this cruel stratagem; for else you would not be, He says, at once judge and accuser. And Christ said this, wishing to bring it to the knowledge of Pilate that nothing that was unseen, |599 and devised, and said in secret, could escape Him; and that, seeing that He was more than man, he might be more reluctant to minister to the cruelty of those who brought Him; and at the same time to teach him that he did very wrong in forcing Him, Who had been convicted of no crime, on the mere word of others to pay the penalty.
35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered Thee unto me: What hast Thou done?
He now exposes the villainy of the Jews, and almost publishes the multitude of His accusers. It is as though he said: “It does not concern me to know about Thee, for I am not a Jew; but rather befits Thine own nation and kindred, who. it may be, have this knowledge, and so bring Thee to suffer death.” He then accuses himself. For to say, What hast Thou done, implies nothing else but this. The holy Evangelist was very zealous to narrate every detail about the trial of Christ, and among them he tells us the fact that Pilate asked Jesus the question: What hast Thou done? And hereby we may best observe the total absence of charges against Him, and that, as none were brought forward, and Christ our Saviour was convicted of no crime, the sentence of death that went forth against Him was impious and most unjust.
36 Jesus answered, My Kingdom is not of this world: if My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My Kingdom not from hence.
He dispelled the fear Pilate felt as the appointed guardian of Caesar’s kingdom, for he supposed that Christ was meditating insurrection against temporal rule, as the Jews had vainly talked. For they hinted at this when they said: If this Man were not an evildoer, we should not have delivered Him up unto thee; |600 meaning insurrection by the evil they said He was doing. For they affected to be so well-disposed to the Romans, as not even to be able to utter the word revolt. For this cause, then, they said they had brought Him to Pilate, to suffer judgment. Christ, in His reply, denied not that He was a King, for He could not but speak truth; but He clearly proved that He was no enemy to Caesar’s rule, signifying that His Kingdom was not an earthly kingdom, but that He reigned, as God, over heaven and earth, and yet greater things than these.
What proof, then, did He give? and how did He remove this suspicion? He says, that He had never employed any spearmen or warriors, and had never had with Him any men at all resolved on resistance; not merely in order to prevent His losing His Kingdom, but not even, that He might escape from the imminent danger cast upon Him by the hand of the Jews; for it did not proceed from their ruler himself, namely, Caesar. When, then, He had shown the groundlessness of this outcry by so clear a proof, Pilate perceived that the presumptuous attempt against Christ was without excuse. Yet, without any compulsion, and when there was nothing to incite him to that consequence, he complied with the pleasure of the Jews, to the perdition of his own soul, and shared with them the guilt of having put Christ to death. Christ, indeed, when He said that His Kingdom was a supernatural kingdom, not only freed Pilate from all alarm, and dispelled his suspicions about an insurrection, but induced him also to have an exalted opinion of Him, and by His reply in some sort commenced to instruct him.
37 Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king then?
He makes use of Christ’s truth-speaking to charge Him withal. When he heard Him say: My Kingdom is not from hence, he was indeed quit of his fear of an insurrection; but he still compels Him to openly profess this thing, and defines as a charge His mere assertion |601 that He had a kingdom, though He asserted that it was not of this world. He drives Jesus, as it were, to make this profession; and says, Thou hast confessed already that Thou art a King.
37, 38 Jesus answered him, Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice. Pilate saith unto Him, What is truth?
He does not deny the glory of His Kingdom, nor leave it to the voice of Pilate only to affirm it, for as God He is King, whether man so will, or no; but He once more showed the power of the truth which impelled Pilate, though reluctant, to declare the glory of Him Who was on His trial; for, He says: Thou hast said, that I am a King. For this cause was I born, He says, and came into this world when I became Man, that I should bear witness unto the truth; that is, that He might take lying out of the world, and, having subdued the devil, who gained his way by guile, He might show truth triumphant over the universe; truth—-that is, that nature that is truly sovereign by nature, which has not by craft acquired the ability to hold rule and dominion over heaven and earth, and, in a word, everything that is brought into being; nor has this been added unto it from without, but it is seen to be essentially and naturally inherent. In order, too, that He might show that Pilate’s dulness of apprehension arose from his stubborn heart, and his reluctance to admit the truth, Christ fitly adds the word: Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice. For the word of truth gains a ready acceptance from those who have already learnt and love it; but with others it is not so. Yea, the Prophet Isaiah said to some: If ye will not believe, neither shall ye understand. Pilate showed at once the truth of this, when he said: What is truth? For, just as those whose sight is injured, and who have wholly |602 lost the use of their eyes, have their sense of colour entirely annihilated, so as not to note when gold is brought before them, or a shining and precious stone shown them, nay, even the very light of the sun’s rays excites in them no wonder, as they have no perception thereof, and can gain no profit from any such thing; so to men whose minds are warped, truth seems a foul and ugly thing, although it instils into the minds of those who behold it its spiritual and Divine radiancy.
38, 39 And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find no crime in Him. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one prisoner at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
For a condemnation at once of the want of piety, and of the cruelty of the Jews, he excels them in the knowledge of what was just and right, though he could not boast of Divine instruction, but was merely the guardian of human ordinances, and reverenced most of all the enactments of those from whom he had his office as a gift. If the teachers of the Jewish Law had so done, and chosen to be thus minded, they might very likely have escaped the net of the devil, and shunned the most abominable of all crimes, I mean the shedding of the Blood of Christ. Pilate, then, hesitates to condemn Christ, Who had been taken in and convicted of no criminal act, and says that He That was far removed from all guilt ought not to pay a penalty, and strongly maintains that it is wholly at variance with the laws he observed; putting to shame the frightful frenzy of the Jews in contradiction to their own Law. For he thought that, as they professed to reverence the doctrine of impartial justice, they ought at once to yield to the statement of what was just and right that he put before them. But, perceiving that to acquit Him That they had brought to him of all blame would imply no small condemnation of the precipitancy of the Jews, that they might not on this account insist |603 the more vehemently, and stir up a strange commotion, he paved the way, as it were, and put the best complexion upon the matter, by saying: Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one prisoner at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? When he called Jesus King of the Jews, he spoke in jest, and tried to abate by ridicule the anger of the furious mob, and hereby also clearly showed that this particular accusation was brought in vain; for a Roman officer would never have thought a man condemned of plotting for a kingdom and revolution against Rome, worthy to be released. He bore witness, then, to His utter guiltlessness by the very reasons he gave for His release.
I think these words explain the drift of the passage. And as I was considering and meditating in my mind how the custom arose for the Jews to ask for one man to be released to them (a robber, it might be, or a murderer), the idea occurred to me that they no longer regulated their actions altogether according to the Law, but, choosing rather to use their own customs, they fell into a decayed state of manners not altogether in accordance with the Mosaic dispensation. But while I was searching the Divine Scriptures, and hunting everywhere for the origin of this custom, I came upon one of the Divine dictates, which caused me to suspect that when the Jews sought the release of a malefactor, they were, in fact, in however mistaken a way, fulfilling one of the customs of the Law. At the end of the book called Numbers we find recorded the law concerning voluntary and involuntary homicide; and when the penalty in the case of premeditated murder has been clearly laid down, the book goes on to speak of involuntary homicide, and, after other remarks, makes the following declaration: But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him anything without laying of wait, or with any stone wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him that he die, and was not his enemy, |604 neither sought his harm: then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled. Such, then, being the written commandment, when any, as it chanced, were involved in such a calamity, the Jews, when they were congregated together, that they might not appear altogether to neglect this enactment, sought the release of one of them. For the Law laid down that it was to be the act of the entire assembly. As, then, they were permitted by the Law to ask for the release of a prisoner, they make this request of Pilate. For after they had once accepted the Roman yoke they were henceforth, for the most part, in the administration of their affairs ruled by their laws. Nay, further, though it was lawful for them to put to death any one convicted of a crime, they brought Jesus to Pilate as a criminal, saying: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. For though they alleged as a plea their purification by the sacrifice of the Passover, yet they showed themselves flatterers of Rome, in entrusting to the laws of the Romans the duty which the Divine commandment from heaven laid upon themselves.
40 They cried out therefore again, saying, Not this Man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.
Herein also the Jews show themselves indeed lawbreakers, and more inclined to give way to their own inclinations than to honour their ancient commandments; for though the Mosaic Law ordered that a man who had committed involuntary homicide should be released, and not a man like Barabbas (for how could such a thing be?), they prefer to ask for a notorious robber. And that the man here named was, in fact, a dangerous and brutal criminal, and not free from blood-guiltiness, the words of the inspired Peter to the people of the Jews will make clear to us: But ye denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to |605 be granted unto you. For they preferred a robber to Him Who regarded not His equality with God the Father, and took our poverty upon Him for this very end, that He might deliver us from the true murderer, that is, Satan; and they were men adorned with the priesthood of the Law, and who greatly vaunted themselves thereon. Yet they passed by and utterly rejected the commandment, Judge righteous judgment, and justified the murderer, condemning Christ, and cried with one accord: Not this Man, but Barabbas. The Jews, however, will pay the penalty of their impious act; but we may well admire the Holy Scripture, examining it in the light of Christ’s Person, and this desperate outcry; for thus saith the Prophet Jeremiah: I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage, I have given my beloved soul into the hand of her enemies. Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me. It may be well to explain this simile of the lion in the forest. He says it is with his heritage as when this great and frightful beast desires to seize some prey in the forest, it goes up to a high peak, and gives forth a great and fearful roar, and strikes such terror into those who hear, that man or beast at once fall prostrate, not able to endure the awful sound of his threatening voice, and the beast, as it were, makes them fall by the breath of his mouth. And God confirms this saying also by the prophet, when he thus speaks: The lion roareth; who will not fear? The assembly of the Jews, therefore, was as a lion in the forest to our Saviour Christ, so far, at least, as their presumptuous clamour against Him went; for the Nature of God endureth not panic or fear at all. For the assembly, by its clamour, put Him to death, though Pilate invited them to choose His release; so that even those who had not yet learnt the Divine Law might be proved better than men instructed in the Law. |606