from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 37

Matthew 27:1-30:  Before Pilate

The Story


When we left our story we were in the high priest's palace in Jerusalem; it was night. Peter was with the servants in the court of the palace and the Lord was in the room where the priests had gathered to find some excuse against Him. Early in the morning after this sad night the priests came again to the palace of Caiaphas and led the Lord to the palace of Pilate the Roman governor; for the Jews were not allowed to put anyone to death; they could only ask the governor to carry out their wish.

We find the priests with the Lord in the early morning (it was now Friday) standing before the gate of Pilate's palace. They would not go in, for Pilate was not a Jew, and they thought that if they went into the house of a Gentile they would be defiled; and they would not do that, especially at this holy Passover season. So Pilate came out to them outside the gate. They said that the Lord had perverted the nation, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He was Christ a king. You know how untrue this was when you remember what the Lord told those who asked Him about tribute: "Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." The Lord was led inside into the judgment hall; Pilate went in to question Him and came out again to speak with the priests and the people at the gate. Pilate could find nothing wrong that the Lord had done. He knew that it was because the priests hated Him that they had brought Him and accused Him.

It was the custom every year at the Passover for the governor to let go one prisoner, whomever the people should choose. So he asked if he should release Jesus, but the priests persuaded the people and they asked for Barabbas who was in prison for wrong that he had done. And when Pilate said, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" they all cried, "Let Him be crucified." And the governor said, "Why, what evil hath He done?" But they cried out the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified."

Pilate was afraid to refuse the people. He took water and washed his hands, as if that could free him from blame in doing an unjust thing. Then he delivered Barabbas to them, and Jesus to the soldiers to be crucified. If we look back to Matthew 20:17-19 we remember how the Lord, as He journeyed with the disciples to Jerusalem, had told them that these things would happen. "And the third day He shall rise again." Yes, that also happened as the Lord foretold. We shall learn about it.


The trial and condemnation of the Lord includes two scenes, the first in the high priest's palace, and the second at Pilate's gate. The first scene was set before us in our last lesson; the second in our lesson today. The meeting of the priests on the Thursday night is thought to have been informal; the meeting in the early morning of Friday, mentioned in Matthew 27:1, 2, is thought to have been a session of the Council, the Sanhedrin, to take formal action upon the accusation to be made against the Lord to Pilate.

Pontius Pilate, mentioned in Luke 3:1 as the governor of Judea, lived usually at Caesarea on the Mediterranean shore; but he was often in Jerusalem at feast times to suppress disorders which might arise, and at such times occupied the palace of Herod on Mount Zion. We see the priests with the Lord and the gathering crowd of people, although it was yet very early, crossing to the palace of the governor and standing outside the gate.

At this point in the story we are told how Judas repented of his crime and went and hanged himself. Read also the account of Judas in Acts 1:15-20. The silver pieces were shekels, about sixty cents each in value; in all eighteen dollars. Thirty shekels was the price of a slave. (Exodus 21:32) It has been common to speak of Judas as the most wicked of men. He betrayed the Lord for gain; but repentance is possible of even the greatest sin. It is better instead of condemning Judas, to ask ourselves if we may be guilty of the same sin, loving the Lord and holy things for gain to ourselves, betraying the Lord by a kiss. The potter's field, Aceldama, "the field of blood," is thought to be the hillside across the valley of Hinnom, to the south of Mount Zion.

The scene at Pilate's gate. There were the angry priests ready with a false accusation which they thought Pilate would not dare to disregard, for they represented the Lord as opposing the Roman power. In their hatred of the Lord they were persuading the people to ask for the release of Barabbas and to demand the Lord's death, yet with this inward wickedness was their external sanctity which would not allow them to go into a Gentile's house, for fear of defilement. There was Pilate knowing that the Lord was blameless, yet afraid to offend the Jews, and still more fearful when his wife sent to him a word of warning telling of a dream which she had had. We see him passing in and out between the Lord in the judgment hall and the priests outside the gate: he was weakly delaying and losing ground with every moment of delay, till finally he yielded to their will. And there was the Lord, calm and silent before the angry priests and Pilate, except when He spoke to tell the simple truth that He was a King. Who was gaining the victory? The priests and people swept away by angry passion, or the Lord, who was holding every selfish thought and feeling in restraint and standing there in perfect strength? Who was truly a king? Pilate, weak and vacillating, doing what he knew was wrong, or the Lord, standing faithful to the perfect truth? John tells us that as the Lord came forth before the people He said, "Behold the man!" (John 19:5) He was gaining the victory, not the priests or Pilate. He was the King. He was the perfect Man.

1. Who came together in the night to find some charge against the Lord? Where did they meet?

2. To whom did they take the Lord in the morning? What charge did they bring?

3. Was Pilate willing to release the Lord? Why did he not do it? Whom did he release?

4. Who was the real King, the perfect Man?

Spiritual Study


Judas in betraying the Lord was the tool of the priests who hated Him. Swedenborg often says of Judas that he represents the Jews in their attitude toward the Lord. Both the priests and Judas stand especially for the love of power and gain from holy things, which if unrestrained is perhaps the wickedest and cruelest of all passions, as has been shown at times when it has taken possession of the church and led to the greatest cruelties in the name of religion. This was the passion which inflamed the priests and the crowd at Pilate's palace and made them cry out for the release of Barabbas and for the Lord's death. They were choosing and releasing in their own souls the spirit of robbery and murder and were making of no account the Divine truth and love. (A. 4751; E. 740)

In close connection with this picture of the angry priests we are given the picture of Judas' repentance and death. It stands as an assurance of the possibility of repenting of this evil though it must be through extreme humiliation and despair. It is not for us to attempt to judge of the personal character of Judas or of any other man. While the Lord in speaking of the twelve said, "One of you is a devil," He also said to Peter, "Get thee behind Me, Satan." It was not the man in either case whom He meant, but the evil and the falsity which were then prompting their actions and words. Swedenborg speaks of the thirty pieces of silver as representing the "little esteem for the merit of the Lord, and redemption and salvation by Him." The spurning of the money by the priests and the use of it to buy the potter's field for the burial of strangers, represents the utter rejection of the Lord's redeeming work by the Jews and by those who loved holy things for selfish gain and the acceptance of it instead by simple Gentiles who find in it a means of reformation and resurrection to new life. The potter, Swedenborg adds, stands for reformation and regeneration, the fashioning and building of a heavenly spirit; and burial stands for resurrection and new life. (A. 2276, 2966)

Pilate was the weak tool of the priests. As the Lord said to him, "He that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin." The priests are the passion in the heart; Pilate is the understanding and external faculties which inevitably in the end yield to the desire which the heart chooses and confirms, and give it outward expression. The sin is not so much in the outward action which may depend often largely upon circumstances; but it is in the heart, in choosing and indulging the evil motive. (R. 20; E. 31)

Before the priests and Pilate the Lord stood in simple majesty: "Behold the man!" "Behold your King!" (John 19:5,14) He told Pilate that He was a King in bearing witness to the truth; by holding to the truth He gained the mastery. Especially at that time He was resisting and controlling the evil passions which were swaying the multitude before Him. He was resisting and controlling them not in Himself alone, but the evil spirits from whom those passions come. He was making Himself the perfect Man and King and gaining the power to help others to become so in their measure. Reading this story of victory in the scene at Pilate's palace, may not the story of Judas' repentance, which immediately precedes it, suggest remotely the repentance and the laying down of natural life which led to this victory of the Lord? Did anyone ever repent of the evil of misusing holy things for selfish advantage as the Lord did? And was it not through this repentance and victory that the potter's field was bought, the possibility secured of reformation and resurrection to new life for all humble souls? (A. 9144; L. 16)

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