Gabbatha, John 19. 13

“Pilate … brought Jesus forth … in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.” Many, on visiting Jerusalem, and observing the remains of the New Testament period unearthed by the archaeologists, have recalled in heart and thought the divine record of all that He endured there, is a never-to-be-forgotten, heart-moving experience, that bows the soul in love, devotion and worship.

In each of the four Gospels, there are found accounts of the judgment events, that record the shame and scorn that were heaped upon Him, the stripes that He received, the setting at nought, and the contradiction of sinners against Himself. For here in the embrace of Gethsemane and Golgotha is seen the enormity of sin—man’s treatment and rejection of God’s Beloved Son. Pilate “sat down in the judgment seat” (Greek: bematos), a tribunal on a Pavement (Hebrew: Gabbatha, lit. an elevated place). Thus we see the ignominy of the Messiah, who came as Israel’s King, set in the place of judgment by His subjects. The Eternal Son, occupying the highest place in heaven’s glory, the recipient of all honour and praise from celestial beings and from created orders, Psa. 148. 2, 3, is seen here as the Son of man elevated by man (the highest work of His creation) to a place of shame and ridicule. Such is the heart of man, and beyond that, the hatred of Satan.

At Gabbatha “his own received him not”, John 1. 11; the Jews rejected Him by crying “We have no king but Caesar”, 19. 15. What a show of hypocrisy is seen here when we consider the attitude of the priests who, by this claim, refused to admit the Old Testament confession, “the Holy One of Israel is our king”, Psa. 89. 18. Here are the depths of envy and hatred against God’s Christ. In spite of all their hatred of the Roman yoke, they bend to Caesar as king, although they had long been without a king, Hos. 3. 4, and will remain so until Christ comes to Olivet.

At Gabbatha “the world knew him not”, John 1. 10; it thus identified itself with Pilate’s sarcastic statement “Ecce Homo”—“Behold the man”, 19. 5. So mankind spurns the Lord of glory, the Jews His Kingship, and the Gentiles His Lordship. But Gabbatha is not only the place of rejection, “We will not have this man to reign over us”, Luke 19. 14; it also sets forth the greatest travesty of human justice that this world has ever seen. There were two legal systems that condemned Christ, the Jewish and the Roman; these two systems are marked in today’s jurisprudence, “the science of law”.

1. Under Jewish law, the arrest and proceedings were under Annas, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Thus the trial comprised the three stages:

  1. The preliminary hearing before Annas, John 18. 12-14, 19-24.
  2. The informal “trial” before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, no doubt before dawn, Matt. 26. 57-68; Mark 14. 53-65; Luke 22. 54, 63-65.
  3. The formal trial by the Sanhedrin, Matt. 27. 1; Mark 15. 1; Luke 23. 1-2.

The Scripture records reveal a number of irregularities in this Jewish trial. The search for hostile testimony was illegal, Matt. 26. 59; Mark 14. 55-56; John 11. 53. No accused person could be convicted on his own evidence, yet Matthew 26. 62-66 and John 18. 19 show the insistence of the Jewish authorities for Christ to condemn Himself by His replies and admissions.

In his dealings with Jesus, Caiaphas (as judge) was not impartial, and did not seek to protect Him (as the Accused); the arrest was carried out under no formal accusation; the “trial” continued into an illegal night session; a verdict of “guilty” was given on the same day as the conclusion of the trial, instead of on the next day. It is doubtful whether the required quorum of twenty-three judges was present. All these particulars marked the Jewish “trial” as completely out of order.

2. The Roman trial was also composed of three stages:

  1. Jesus was questioned by Pilate for the first time, Matt. 27. 2, 11-14.
  2. Jesus was sent by Pilate to Herod, Luke 23. 6-12.
  3. Jesus was sent back to Pilate by Herod, Matt. 27. 15-26; Mark. 15. 6-15; Luke 23. 13-25; John 18. 39-40.

If the Jewish trial was a religious affair, then the trial under Pilate was political, for it was on this ground that the whole multitude brought Jesus to the Roman governor, Luke 23. 1-2. Yet after careful interrogation, the verdict of both Herod and Pilate was “not guilty”, Luke 23. 15. But under the intensity of political pressure Pilate gave sentence of death!, vv. 21-24. Hence Pilate “delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified”, Mark 15. 15. Historians confirm that scourging was regarded as an appropriate preface to crucifixion—thus the culmination of the punishment was, as it were, reached gradually. Hence, if in any case a smitten conscience moved the accusers to relent, time was then available for its realization. But not in the Lord’s case: the appetite of the Jews was only whetted by the afflictions of the Saviour under such physical torture. The word rendered “scourged” (Greek: phragelloo) is formed from the same Latin term from which is derived our English word “flagellated” (whipped).

According to custom, the Roman flagellation would be administered by means either of rods or of leather thongs, often pointed with lead or bone. This would be applied by the cruel strength of two soldiers to the bare back of the victim bound to a pillar. Returning to Gabbatha in thought and faith, we behold there the fulfilment of the prophetic truth “I gave my back to the smiters”, Isa. 50. 6. This must surely harrow the heart to think that our Blessed Lord was subjected to this cruel indignity, with the added mockery, shame and spitting. In this is seen the awfulness of man’s sin against the amazing grace of the One who was so willing to endure “such contradiction of sinners against himself’, Heb. 12. 3. If “angels at His footstool bow”, what less can the heart of faith do but to worship and adore at the memory of Gabbatha!

Behold the Man! by all condemned,
Assaulted by a host of foes;
His Person and His claims contemn’d
A man of sufferings and woes.

Behold the Man! He stands alone,
His foes are ready to devour,
Not one of all His friends will own
Their Master in this trying hour.

Behold the Man! though scorned below,
He bears the greatest Name above;
The angels at His footstool bow,
And all His royal claims approve.


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