The Passover lamb had to be perfect, without disease, a one-year old male, in its prime. It was to be taken out of the flocks four days before Passover and kept close to the family. The lamb had to be presented by the priests for sacrifice, and inspected to make sure it was acceptable. Paul said, “Christ our Passover lamb is sacrificed for us” (1Cor.5:7). He was age 33, a male in His prime of life, and He was sinless: “He had done no violence; neither was there any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). “Who did no sin; neither was guile found in his mouth” (1Peter 2:22).
Zacharias was a priest of the sons of Aaron, and his wife Elizabeth was also of the lineage of Aaron. To them was born a son in their old age, John the Baptist. A full-blooded priest, he was sent by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah and to prepare Israel for His coming (John 1:6). It was John who seeing Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, declared “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn.1:29). He identified Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, certifying Him as acceptable according to the priestly protocol. Jesus, thirty years old, was baptized by John, beginning His ministry, which lasted three and one-half years, until He was sacrificed on the altar of the cross.
Before the Passover lamb was offered, it had to be examined by the chief priest to make certain it was acceptable. Only the high priest could offer the lamb; only he could initiate the death of the sacrifice. It was the council of the elders, scribes, and chief priests who met at the house of Caiphas, the high priest, to conspire how to take Jesus by deceit so as not to rile up the people who loved Him. Later, they conspired with Judas to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, before the Passover, as He prayed with His disciples.
The plot was initiated when the high priest sent Temple guards (not Romans) to arrest Jesus, as Judas identified Him with the signal kiss of betrayal. He was taken to Caiphas’ house to be examined in an illegal trial which lasted late into the night. They presented the testimonies of two false witnesses against Him, accusing Him of blasphemy, which carried the death penalty. Finally, they spit in His face and smacked Him with the palms of their hands. Caiphas ripped his priestly robe in outrage, denouncing Jesus as a blasphemer, and delivered Him over to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to carry out their sentence of death.
They—the ministers of God—committed bribery, lying, slander, and manipulation to convict Jesus, resulting in the murder of an innocent man. As evil as this was, it was necessary for the high priest to condemn Jesus to death. He was ordained to offer the holy sacrifice to make atonement for the sins of the nation; it was his calling, and he was responsible for offering up the lamb. He, more than any other, was responsible for handing Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified. The Passover Lamb had to be offered up by the high priest.
Fix That Sign!
We know Pilate was far from innocent in the crucifixion of Christ; although in the beginning of his examination of Jesus, he said that he could find nothing in Him worthy of death. He was looking for a way out, and at one point, he offered to let Jesus go in accordance with the yearly custom of freeing one Jewish prisoner at Passover. But the chief priests refused, choosing Barabbas, a murderer and seditionist, instead. The Lamb the high priest had chosen would die.
During his deliberations on the judgment seat, Pilate’s wife sent word to him: “Have nothing to do with that just man, because I have suffered many things in a dream this day because of him” (Matt.27:19). But this divine intervention Pilate would ultimately ignore. While questioning Jesus, it was mentioned that He was from Galilee, Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod was in Jerusalem for the feast. Eager to get Him off his hands, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod:
“And when he saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him” (Luke 23:8). Although Herod questioned Jesus at length, Jesus answered him nothing. It is incredible that Jesus was able to keep from venting His wrath in Herod’s presence, knowing he had cruelly beheaded John, Jesus’ cousin, friend, and Heaven’s great prophet.
Finally, Herod’s soldiers, mocking Him, clothed Him in a gorgeous scarlet robe befitting a king, and sent Him back to Pilate. Curiously, prior to this, Pilate and Herod had been enemies, but that day they became friends! (Luke 23:12).
Once again, Pilate tried to rid himself of Jesus, saying that he found nothing in Him worthy of death, but the priests insisted He had committed blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God. This served to unsettle Pilate, and he reminded Jesus that he had the power to crucify Him or set Him free. Jesus replied, “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above: therefore, he that delivered me unto you has the greater sin” (John 19:11).
If Pilate had been nervous before, this really shook him up, and he tried harder to release Jesus. But the Jewish leaders executed the coup de grace when they told him, “You are no friend of Caesar’s if you let Him go, because whoever makes himself to be a king speaks against Caesar” (v.12). What hypocrisy! They hated Caesar, but they, like Herod, put their hatred aside to pressure Pilate. Knowing He was an innocent man, Pilate bowed to political pressure and gave the order for His crucifixion.
“And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (v.19).
This inscription was written in three languages: Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, which were all commonly spoken at that time. It also served to punctuate the Jewish belief “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (Matt.18:16).
But when the priests of the Jews read what it said, they were upset, and complained to Pilate: “Write not The King of the Jews—but that HE SAID—I am King of the Jews.” Weary with their protests, Pilate replied, “What I have written I have written.” In other words, it’s staying just like it is.
Why were the priests so upset about what was written over Jesus’ head?
In Hebrew, it formed an acrostic, which is when the first letter of each word in a composition creates a word or phrase. Keeping in mind that in ancient Hebrew, vowels were not written, but only consonants, this is what they would have read:
Ha Nazri (of Nazareth)
V’ melech (the King)
Ha Yehudim (of the Jews)
They saw the first four letters: YHVH.
This is the unpronounceable, sacred Name of God, translated in English Bibles with vowels added, as jehovah. When Moses asked God His name, He said: “i am that i am” (Exodus 3:14).This is equivalent to jehovah, which is derived from a verb tense meaning “the God that was, and is, and is to come.”
Jesus referred to Himself by this title in John’s Revelation: “I am the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev.1:8). This name is so sacred that to this day, no Jew will speak it, so as not to desecrate it. Instead, they refer to God as “ha shem” meaning “the Name.”
Imagine their horror when they saw God’s most sacred name above the head of the crucified Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God! Was it the “King” title that upset them, or did they realize they were killing God!
No wonder they wanted Pilate to change it!
I Was There!
So who really crucified Jesus?
Caiphas? Jesus told Pilate that the one who delivered Him into his hands had the greater sin.
The chief priests and scribes? Pilate knew they wanted Jesus dead out of envy (Mk.15:10).
Herod? Paranoid, he had killed many, even family he perceived to be competition for his throne.
Pilate? He had the authority to set Him free, but instead, released Barabbas, a notorious insurrectionist and murderer, because he feared Roman reprimand (Mk.15:15).
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But there were others!
Rembrandt, one of the greatest painters the world has ever known, did something astounding in his famous painting, The Raising of the Cross—he included himself among those standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Wearing a blue beret, commonly worn by painters of his era, he stands out among the others in biblical clothing. His self-portrait conveys the message:
“I crucified Jesus Christ! I’m as guilty as those who drove the nails, because my sins nailed Him to the cross!”
And so did mine. And yours. We were there!