“Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (John 19:5)
In 1968, at Atlanta Stadium, Dr. William Holmes Borders (1905-1993), black pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, appeared in a popular passion play titled Behold the Man. It drew over 50,000 people and was declared by the news media “The Miracle That Saved Atlanta.” This was in the time of some desegregation tensions, and Dr. Borders was a very active participant in the civil rights movement in Atlanta. I don’t know if it is true that it physically saved Atlanta , but the event being portrayed (The crucifixion of Jesus Christ), is a part of the miracle that saved countless souls from the beginning of mankind until this very day.
BEHOLD THE MAN BEFORE PONTIUS PILATE
Of all the titles and epitaphs attached to Jesus Christ, this statement Behold the Man seems at first glance to be the most awkward, and the most untrue. After all, Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God; yes even very God of very God as was stated in the original Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.. He was, and is, God Almighty, but He is also a man. I know, this is a paradox, something that finite man cannot fully explain, yet it is true. God the Holy Spirit placed in the virgin Mary’s womb a baby, which was born in a manger. He is the God-Man! A union of God and man. Virgin born, without sin, the Lamb without spot or blemish pictured by the Old Testament type.
Yet here before Pilate, just before His death by crucifixion, He appears to be only a man---a defeated man at that! His followers were mostly afraid, and scattered. It appeared to be the end for Him. He was about the be crucified, which was the most agonizing of Rome’s death penalties. So gruesome it was, that as a rule, no Roman citizen was given this penalty. It was a penalty designed for the lower elements; the outcasts of society. As Pontius Pilate uttered “Behold the Man” regarding Jesus, he had already examined Him, and came to this conclusion “Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him” (John 19:4). The reason he did not find fault in Him was obvious to us who know the Christ of the Bible. He was without fault; without spot; without blemish; Without sin. God the Father said of Him “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17b).
So Pilate knew that Christ did not deserve this awful death. He tried to wash his hands of the judgment of death pronounced on the darling Son of God. He tried to pass Him on to the Jewish leaders and let them be responsible. Since Jesus was known as a Galilean, he gave Him over to Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, who was in Jerusalem at this time. There had been a division between them, but now they became friends. When Herod couldn’t get Jesus to perform a miracle for him, he sent Jesus back to Pilate.
There are those in our day who would blame the Jews alone for Christ‘s death. After all, they told Pilate vigorously “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25b). But they alone were not responsible. Pilate, the Roman Procurator, or Governor, a Gentile, was responsible. As a matter of fact, it was not only this Gentile that was guilty. Simon of Cyrene, evidently a black man who helped carry Jesus’ cross part of the way up the Via Dolorosa was guilty, not only because he carried the cross, and not risking his own life to protest the cruelty to this just man, but because Simon was also a sinner. Just as much a sinner as the woman taken in adultery whom Jesus forgave and told her “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” John 8:11b. Just as much a sinner as the Pharisees and Sadducees who condemned Jesus. Just as much as those who cried out “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40b). Just as much a sinner as Barabbas who was an insurrectionist who stole and killed. Just as much a sinner as Judas who betrayed Him. We are all sinners! Remember Jesus told those who were condemning the adulterous woman “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”(John 8:7b). They wanted to, but none could. For as Isaiah the prophet, the psalmist David, and later the Apostle Paul told us “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Pilate’s wife had warned her husband, and she was correct “When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him”(Matthew 27:19). He was, and is, a just man, but not a mere man. When Pontius Pilate said Ecce Homo (likely he used this Latin phrase for Behold the Man), to the crowd calling for Christ’s crucifixion, he may well have believed Jesus to only be a man. A good man, a just man, but a man. As a Roman, Pilate worshiped another man, Caesar Tiberius, as god. So there wasn’t room for another god in his life. Hence Behold the Man, who in Pilate‘s eyes couldn‘t be God!
BEHOLD THE MAN BEFORE THE CROWD
So as the ancient Apostles Creed clearly states regarding Jesus He suffered under Pontius Pilate. But Pilate still tried to dissuade them, offering them Barabbas, the thief and murderer instead. But the crowd was in a frenzy, and wanted Barabbas released and Jesus killed. It is an irony, and a picture of human nature, that the Person that at least some of the crowd had very recently praised at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the city of David, with loud cries of “Hosanna to the son of David : Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9). They were now screaming in His ears “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21b). Behold the Man as He appeared to move from triumph to failure! Yes, He died as a man; The Man Christ Jesus, the mediator between God and men (1Timothy 2:5). It went from Hosanna to a mocking Hail King of the Jews! But He was and is more. He is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (1Timothy 6:15). But He died on that Roman cross. He went from honor, as He was riding on a donkey, while palm branches were laid in His path, down to being scourged. He was led before Herod to be tried, and led by Roman soldiers back to Pilate with a crown of thorns on His head; a mocking royal robe placed upon Him, and being struck on the face with their hands. Now He was being given up to the mocking cries of a raging mob, and put to death..
We should all know that a crowd is fickle. They had cried Hosanna (Hebrew; O save us), now crying “crucify Him“, and the chief priests and scribes mocked and said “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (Mark 15:31). What they did not know is that He did not want to be rescued from death. He had settled this in the Garden of Gethsemane. Behold the Man as He sweat great drops of blood in agony! What he feared was not death. He dreaded a worse thing. He dreaded being separated from the Father for the first time in His earthly life. That is why He cried on the cross “Eli eli lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46).
BEHOLD THE MAN ON THE CROSS
There were two other men crucified beside Him there at Calvary. They were likely the companions of the aforementioned Barabbas, the insurrectionist. While Barabbas was to escape the death of the cross, these two men did not. Consider this: Jesus died in Barabbas’ place. You ask me “was he saved?” I don’t know. There are some early theologians who say yes. Jesus did die in his place. No doubt about that. Jesus died on that cross that should have been Barabbas’ cross, and Barabbas was set free. Interesting. Many things happened on that cross. All four gospels record the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion scholars tell us that 333 prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures were fulfilled. Oh dear friends, this was no ordinary man on that cross! Behold Him! Yes, Behold the Man! He often even called Himself the Son of Man, showing that He was, as Paul said, the last Adam, the representative man. Adam was the federal head of the human race, representing us all. When he fell, we all fell (except Jesus). Jesus as the Son of Man was the new representative man- the last Adam.
Indeed, Behold the Man! On that cruel cross as He says:
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
“Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
“Woman, behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother” (John 19:26,27).
“It is Finished” (John 19:30).
“Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
“ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
“I thirst” (John 19:28).
Many words have been written about these seven last sayings, and many sermons preached. We can never exhaust the content of these sayings.
Jesus’ crucifixion is a well attested fact in Roman history. As He was there on the cross in his death, they came to break his legs, which was a custom so they would not be on the cross during the sabbath, but they found He was already dead.. The soldiers pierced His side (fulfilling Old Testament prophecy), and out came blood and water. Even in Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century we find these words:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” Antiquities of the Jews - XVIII, 3:8-10
BEHOLD THE MAN IN THE TOMB
Jesus had no place to be born but a manger in a cattle stall; He had no home of His own after He left Nazareth; He had no grave of His own in which to be buried, so Joseph of Arimethea, a wealthy Jew, donated a tomb in the garden for his burial. After Joseph of Arimethea went to Pilate to beg for the body, he and Nicodemus took His body to prepare it and bury it. He was placed in the tomb after being prepared for burial. He was wrapped in a shroud made of linen. As I have stated elsewhere, I believe the bible bears out that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, not a Friday. I won’t go into that much here, but you can obtain a free copy of Wednesday or Friday from me presenting Dr R.A. Torrey’s very compelling case regarding this. I will say that the scripture clearly says: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). These are the words of our Lord Himself. How can you get three days and three nights from Friday until Sunday morning?
As prophesied, that grave wasn’t going to contain Him long. Just three days and three nights. The man was dead. As dead as you can be! The Romans, and the Jews made sure of that. It is said that Christ, while out of His body, went and preached to the spirits in prison. There has been a lot of speculation about the meaning of that. Maybe I will explore it soon.
BEHOLD THE MAN AFTER THE RESURRECTION
That Garden tomb couldn’t hold this Man. Our entire Christian faith hinges on the validity of Christ’s resurrection, for as Paul tells us “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). No use in being in church next week or ever if this crucified Man did not get up out of that grave! It Has been disputed many times in 2000 years, but all the evidence comes back; HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!
One day, because He is risen, we shall behold Him. The late Dottie Rambo wrote a beautiful song with just that title: We Shall Behold Him. This will happen when He returns. It will not be a sad beholding of a man about to be executed, it will be the reunion with the Lord Jesus Christ in glory. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords! We shall behold the man! Then we will clearly see that He is so much more than a man. We shall see Him as He is. If you are one of God’s elect, I know that you desire to see Him more than anything. Even so, come Lord Jesus!!!!! (cw)
Published by Charles Woodruff- email: firstname.lastname@example.org