Where truth confronted power


Today called the kishle (Ottoman word for “prison”), this is a possible location of the praetorium where Jesus stood trial before Pilate.

Today multiple versions of “truth” compete for attention in politics and media, and we ask the same question Pontius Pilate famously put to Jesus: What is truth? (John 18:38). Truth already had been compromised on the night Jesus stood in Pilate’s judgement hall. At the house of High Priest Caiaphas, Peter had lied by declaring he never knew Jesus. Guards then escorted Jesus to Pilate’s praetorium (official headquarters and judgment hall) where Jesus would be sentenced to death. Seeing calamity close in on his master, and recognizing his own moral failure, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Pilate was Roman governor of Palestine, suspicious of anyone who spoke of kingship apart from subservience to Rome. “My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus declared to Pilate. Our Lord was not pointing to an other-worldly or theoretical kingdom. The way of Jesus already was creating alternative communities and transforming lives. Jesus was telling Pilate that authority and power in his kingdom do not come from Rome.

Nor was Jesus going to use conventional political tactics or coercive power to advance his reign. “If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus said, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” In Galilee Jesus had taught his followers to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth! Not pie-in-the-sky politics, but a visible new society of people who live in radical obedience to a reconciling God.

What courage!

What courage Jesus shows in the face of a ruler who could order his immediate execution! Awed by such audacity, I descend with other pilgrims into what may be the room where the trial drama took place. Archeologists recently completed excavations of this part of the so-called Tower of David in Jerusalem. This large room perhaps was Pilate’s praetorium. Walls and roof are from the Ottoman era (AD 1300–1922), but foundations are from the time of Christ.


“Tower of David” is a misnomer. The structure has nothing to do with David, but is the palace of Herod where Pilate resided when in Jerusalem. The minaret is Ottoman, but it marks the place adjacent to the city wall where there are remains of first-century buildings.

Whether or not this is the actual place where Jesus was interrogated, mocked, and sentenced, here I consider the relationship between the powers of this world and the reign of God. Someday, by God’s grace, we will celebrate the fact that “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:15). But for now, political realities of our world often are a far cry from the kingdom of God. Truth too often is the first casualty, as leaders tell half-truths or outright lies to cover their failures or advance their agenda.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and the three are closely related. With trustworthy speech that needs no oath for validation, we follow the way of Jesus. In the light of the gospel, we learn the truth about God and ourselves. At a time when society pressures us to align with political parties and polarizing ideologies, we find the life abundant of unity with Christ and his body, the church.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Jesus and state-sponsored terror.

Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Heb 13:12-14

Jesus did not die “on a green hill far away.” He was victim of a crude instrument of state torture along a busy road where passersby saw him close up. Like most political terror, from suicide bombing to lethal injection, crucifixion was meant to exact revenge and traumatize the public into conformity. Roman theatrics of terror forced Jesus to carry the crossbeam for his own crucifixion through streets of Jerusalem to a small quarry outside the city wall, to a rocky prominence called Golgotha that apparently looked like a skull.

Via Dolorosa picture

The traditional route of the Via Dolorosa, marked in green, goes from Antonia Fortress at the Temple to Golgotha. More likely Jesus carried his cross along the red route, starting at the Palace of Herod (today called the “Citadel” or “Tower of David”).  Golgotha, the small quarry where Jesus died, today is within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the first century Golgotha was outside the city wall; the city had not yet expanded to include that area.

Christian pilgrims since medieval times have thought that the trial of Jesus took place at Antonia Fortress, a Roman facility adjacent to the Temple complex on the east side of old Jerusalem. But that building–a surveillance tower and military barracks that no longer exists–was not the praetorium or governor’s palace where the Gospel of John says the trial, flogging, and mockery of Jesus took place (John 18:28).

The praetorium, rather, was what today we call the Citadel or “Tower of David” on the west side of old Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa (“route of suffering”) along which Jesus carried his crossbeam, started here. Phasael Tower, so named by Herod the Great for his deceased brother, guarded the north end of the palace. It still stands.

Archeologists have worked underneath areas adjacent to Phasael Tower for decades, and at last this year have opened what they found to the public. Astonishingly, one now can visit a large room that plausibly is where Jesus stood before Pilate.

Tower of David

The lower two sections of the massive structure on the right are what remain of Phasael Tower built by Herod the Great.

Jesus’ death by state-sponsored terror had the spiritual effect of sanctifying (setting apart for holy purpose) all who confess Jesus as Lord. His death had the political effect of pointing believers to citizenship in a “city which is to come” rather than in structures of empire and nationalism (Heb 13:12, 13). That city is the New Jerusalem–not simply where we go when we die, but a new political and economic order already taking shape on earth wherever believers abandon idolatry and violence and give allegiance to the Lamb (Rev. 22).

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************IMG_0425

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Join me for the following tour this fall, when I expect to get my first look at the praetorium of Herod. See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

For an article about the recent opening of Herod’s palace to the public, see: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-places/herods-jerusalem-palace-trial-of-jesus/?mqsc=E3786284&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHD+Daily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=E5B109