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Pilate's Palace ~ Trial of Jesus

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Pilate's Palace ~ Trial of Jesus




1. John 18:28–29: “Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium [governor's headquarters, ESV; palace of the Roman governor, NIV], and it was early; and they themselves did not enter the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate came out to them and said, “What accusation are you bringing against this Man?”


2. The word for praetorium, governor's headquarters, and palace all refer to the same location. These same words describe where the Apostle Paul was kept in custody at Herod's Palace or Praetorium (Acts 23:35). The best translation seems to be, palace.


3. Where was Pilate's Palace, also known as Pilate’s Praetorium or headquarters, located? Some believe it was located at the Antonia Fortress. I once thought this as well. However, after much research and considering the archaeological evidence, I now believe the best option is Pilate’s Palace, which is located just south of the Jaffa Gate. Pilate’s Palace was first built and used by King Herod and later used by Pilate and other Roman governors.


4. Herod's Palace Fortress in Jerusalem is located adjacent to the western city wall of Old Jerusalem, in the area now encompassing the Armenian Quarter. It begins at the Kishle building and ends at the present line of the modern (Ottoman period) wall west of Zion Gate. It consisted mainly of two palace wings running north and south and had in the middle of the two ends a large garden. In the area of the Citadel of David and Jaffa Gate, just north of Pilate’s Palace, Herod erected three huge towers for additional protection in case of pending danger. It should be mentioned that Pilate’s Palace was, at first, Herod’s Palace.

5. In the 1970s, the western wall of the city was excavated from the Jaffa Gate to the northwest corner. This particular area was overseen by Magen Broshi and Shimon Gibson. The excavation line can be seen in the wall today by noting where it turns darker. This darker part was covered by dirt until unearthed.

6. If the location of the trial of Jesus took place at Pilate's Palace, then the location of the Via Dolorosa would be different than it is today. You can see in the Google map above where the likely route could have been.

This route would have led Jesus outside the city walls to Calvary (modern-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre). This route is very likely as the Romans afflicted their criminals with maximum humiliation in order to teach others not to do the same. Of course, in the case of Christ, He was fully innocent, and the Jews and the Romans were the true criminals.


Historical Background


1. Herod's Palace at Jerusalem was built in the last quarter of the 1st century BC by Herod the Great, King of Judea from 37 to 4 BC. It was the second most important building in Jerusalem, after the Temple itself. 


2. Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea, appointed by the emperor of Rome. He lived in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea, but when he was in Jerusalem he resided at Herod’s Palace, which served as the praetorium, or governor’s palace.


3. As mentioned, some believe Pilate’s Palace was in the Antonia Fortress. This belief seems to be based on the idea that the Roman governor would have had his residence inside the barracks of the Antonia Fortress. However, this is an incorrect understanding the geography and topography of the crucifixion account. Underneath the Antonia Fortress is found a Roman period stone pavement that was found in the structure and associated with the “stone pavement” at the Praetorium mentioned in the Trial of Jesus story in John 19:13. However, the pavement in the Antonia Fortress is from the 2nd century AD when the Roman emperor, Hadrian, rebuilt much of Jerusalem. Ancient sources and accounts such as Josephus and Philo relate that the Praetorium of Jerusalem was the former palace of Herod the Great. At the Praetorium, Jesus was standing on the “Pavement” while Pilate took his place at the bema or “judgment seat” (John 19:8-13).


4. According to reliable sources, the governor’s residence in Jerusalem was the complex of the former palace of Herod the Great, which was located on the western side of the current Old City of Jerusalem. Josephus related that the Roman governor, Florus, took up residence in Jerusalem at the former palace of Herod the Great where the bema was located. Philo also indicated that the Praetorium was in the palace of Herod since that is where Pilate initially installed the golden shields for Tiberius. The Gospel of Mark records that at the trial of Jesus the Roman soldiers took Jesus into the palace which is the Praetorium (Mark 15:16).


5. Because of archaeological excavations, the Praetorium and its pavement, the bema, or judgment seat, and one of the gates can be seen today. These provide a historical background context to the trial of Jesus account and demonstrate the accuracy of the Gospel stories of this event.


6. Excavations dating from 1999–2000 underneath an abandoned Ottoman-period prison known as the Kishle, which is part of the Tower of David complex, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Amit Re’em uncovered the foundation walls and sewage system of Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem. Tours can be taken via the Tower of David Museum which will showcase these findings.


7. Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Herod’s Palace Complex in Jerusalem was built in the last quarter of the first century BC and was comprised of a palace that had two wings and was divided by pools and gardens. It was protected by three large towers on the northwestern corner of the complex. Excavations carried out by different archaeological teams since the 1960s have uncovered different remains of the palace foundations. However, very little has been found of the actual walls and building itself. This presents no problem and can easily be accounted for due to the many destructions of Jerusalem over the centuries.


8. Using a similar construction style as Herod’s Temple, Herod's Palace was constructed on an elevated platform of retaining walls rising 13 to 16 feet (4.5 m) above ground level. Its measurements consisted of about 1,000 feet long (304 m) running north and south by 180 feet wide (56 m) running east to west. As mentioned, it consisted of two main buildings, each with its own banquet halls, baths, and accommodations for hundreds of guests. The two wings were named after Agrippa and Caesar. In the center of the palace were gardens with porticoes, statues, idols, and so forth. The grounds included groves, canals, and ponds fitted with bronze fountains. After Herod's death, the praetorium at the Palace was the official residence of the Roman governors when they came to Jerusalem during major Jewish festivals. For this reason, this site was most likely where Pontius Pilate resided and the place where the trial of Jesus of Nazareth took place.


9. In addition to a Roman cohort (about 400–500) of soldiers that were stationed at the Antonia Fortress, there was a substantial number of Roman soldiers stationed at Pilate’s Palace Complex. There were also Roman soldier encampments around the city when needed as well.


10. There was a gate leading out of the Palace Complex on the western side of the palace for security purposes. This gate also served as an escape route that Herod and others would have used if the palace was attacked from within. It was in this area that Simon of Cyrene was arriving from the open country and was obligated to carry the cross of Christ. There was no open country access around the Antonia Fortress so this is another big piece of evidence that Pilate’s Palace is the true site of the trial of Jesus.


Places of Interest


1. Pilate's Palace Complex

  • Palace

  • Courtyard

  • Soldier Barracks

  • Stone Walls from the Time of Jesus


2. Dirt Level Before Excavation of This Site


3. Gate Entrance to Pilate’s Palace from Outside the Palace

4. Steps Leading Up to the Gate Entrance to Pilate's Palace

5. Preserved Wall of Harod the Great


6. Preserved Stone Pavement


7. Bema Seat – Judgment Seat

8. Bema Seat Stone


9. Outside Pilate’s Palace – Open Country


10. Jaffa Gate


11. Citadel of David


12. Three Towers Herod Erected

13. House of Caiaphas

14. Likely Route of the True Via Dolorosa

15. Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Pilate's Palace in the Bible


1. Jesus was brought before Pilate outside Pilate's Palace by the Jewish leaders.

John 18:28–29: Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium [governor's headquarters, ESV; the palace of the Roman governor, NIV], and it was early; and they themselves did not enter the Praetorium, so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate came out to them and said, "What accusation are you bringing against this Man?" 


2. The Jewish leaders seek the death penalty for Jesus by crucifixion.

John 18:30-31: They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not a criminal, we would not have handed Him over to you." 31 So Pilate said to them, "Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law." The Jews said to him, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." 32 This happened so that the word of Jesus which He said, indicating what kind of death He was going to die, would be fulfilled."


3. Pilate talks with Jesus inside his palace.

John 18:33: Therefore Pilate entered the Praetorium again, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, "You are the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you about Me?"


4. Pilate comes outside his palace and speaks again with the Jewish leaders.

John 18:38: And after saying this, he came out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no grounds at all for charges in His case.


5. Pilate has Jesus flogged inside his palace.

John 19:1–3: So Pilate then took Jesus and had Him flogged. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and placed it on His head, and put a purple cloak on Him; 3 and they repeatedly came up to Him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and slapped Him in the face again and again.


6. Pilate comes out again with Jesus to the Jewish leaders after flogging Jesus.

John 19:4–7: And then Pilate came out again and said to them, "See, I am bringing Him out to you so that you will know that I find no grounds at all for charges in His case." 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, "Behold, the Man!" 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they shouted, saying, "Crucify, crucify!" Pilate said to them, "Take Him yourselves and crucify Him; for I find no grounds for charges in His case!" 7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die, because He made Himself out to be the Son of God!"


7. Pilate goes back inside his palace and speaks with Jesus again.   

John 19:8–12: Therefore, when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, "Are you not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no authority over Me at all, if it had not been given to you from above; for this reason, the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin." 12 As a result of this, Pilate made efforts to release Him; but the Jews shouted, saying, "If you release this Man, you are not a friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar!"


8. Pilate comes out again with Jesus and speaks to the Jewish Leaders.

John 19:13: Therefore, when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement—but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.


9. Simon of Cyrene is obligated to carry Christ's cross. He is coming from outside the city when this takes place.

Luke 23:26: And when they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, as he was coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.


Faith Lesson from Pilate's Palace


1. The Jewish leaders were responsible for crucifying Christ because they were jealous of him. They were filled with selfish ambition and cared about themselves instead of God. Are we guided and motivated out of jealousy and envy? Are we more concerned about our own kingdom than the Kingdom of God? 


2. Pilate had supernatural warnings from God and knew that what he was doing was wrong. However, he chose to obey the pressure of people rather than choosing the fear of the Lord. What about us, do we do oftentimes do the same and yield to the pressure of others rather than doing what is right?


3. Christ willingly went to the Cross knowing that for this purpose He had come into the world. Have we received His gift of salvation by grace through faith?

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