In October 2017, the headlines read of yet another incident of police brutality. By that time there had been several accounts of police brutality in addition to several incidents of police-involved shootings. Because I’d had enough of the online comments and intense protests, I decided to get serious and really seek the Lord about it. I needed some concrete biblical guidance as to why this was happening. I needed to know if such incidents could be found in the Bible and if so, I needed to study them so that I could know how to intercede. But let me preface this by saying - prayer is not the only thing that needs to be done. But prayer is where it all should start. That said, when I searched the scriptures, much to my surprise, there were several incidents of police brutality. One of which happened to Jesus.
Jesus’ Run In With Law Enforcement
In John 18, we find the legal authorities of the day making plans to indict Jesus. Though several members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court system, were unable to secure a warrant, they were successful in convincing the Jewish Police Department to send, ‘…a detachment of troops, and the captain and the officers of the Jews…with weapons’ to take the Lord into custody. And though His arrest appeared to have been done in an official capacity, it wasn’t; because again, Jesus hadn’t been formally indicted of a crime. Yes, there was a high-ranking officer present, but His arrest was still illegal. But it gets worse.
Instead of taking the Lord to the precinct to be officially booked, they transported Him to an undisclosed location, the home of ‘Annas…the father-in-law of Caiaphas’, the high priest. It was at this point that Jesus became a victim of police brutality. After several unsuccessful attempts to find witnesses that would corroborate their false allegations, the high priest decided to personally interrogate the Lord. During the interrogation he, ‘…asked Jesus about His [staff] and His [teachings]. Jesus [then] answered him, “I [taught publicly]…and in secret I…said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who…heard Me…they know what I said.” And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus…’ When Jesus told the interrogator to actually locate witnesses, notice what happened. He was physically assaulted by an officer. Mind you, this was during an illegal interrogation which by the way was another problem. According to the U.S. Courts Government website, if the government is attempting to charge someone then:
‘…the burden of proof is on the government. Defendants do not have to prove their innocence. Instead, the government must provide evidence to convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt. The standard of proof in a criminal trial gives the prosecutor a much greater burden than the plaintiff in a civil trial. The defendant must be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which means the evidence must be so strong that there is no reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.’1
Therefore, the government, or in Jesus’ case, the Sanhedrin, experienced the same problem. They lacked credible witnesses and had no strong evidence. But Jesus’ ordeal didn’t stop there because shortly thereafter He was transported to another undisclosed location; that of ‘Caiaphas the high priest.’ (John 18:19-24). After being taken into illegal custody, transported to two unlawful locations, and physically assaulted by an officer, Jesus was finally formally indicted, and it was at this point that He was taken to the precinct, or in Jesus’ case, the Praetorium.
The Praetorium was a courthouse of sorts. It was the place where the Romans tried criminal and civil cases. Before we go on, it’s important that you understand the difference between criminal and civil cases. Civil is defined as, ‘relating to…the private rights and duties of a citizen.’ 2 Therefore, the chief priests and Pharisees were bringing a civil case against Jesus because they didn’t believe, that as a private citizen, He had the right to teach publicly, and thus explains why they asked Him, “…by what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’ (Mt. 21:23) Today, He would have been asked, “What seminary did You attend?”, “Who licensed You?”, and “Where did You get Your ordination papers?” Therefore, these officials were trying to determine who sanctioned the Lord. Which governing body gave Him the right and/or license to preach the gospel publicly? But why was this so important?
Because according to Jewish standards, Jesus was not licensed to minister. During that time, only the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and scribes were licensed or sanctioned to teach in the synagogue (i.e. publicly). Yet, it’s noted several times throughout scripture that, ‘…the people were astonished at [Jesus’] teaching, for He taught them as One having authority, not as the scribes [those that had been licensed to do so].’ (Mt. 7:29) Jesus taught as if He had a doctorate’s degree in divinity. But because He didn’t, He was indicted. But why a criminal indictment? Wasn’t this a civil matter? Yes, it was. These officials were attempting to charge Jesus criminally over what should have been a civil matter. However, if you look closely, you’ll discover that this was not just a matter of legality, it was a personal matter of jealousy.
Jealous of Jesus
They not only envied Jesus’ teaching abilities, but His popularity. They were jealous because Jesus had thousands of followers who flocked to His sold-out conferences. They envied the fact that He could also heal the sick, cast out devils, and raise the dead. But when they brought Him to trial, the prosecutors argued that He was ‘…found…perverting the nation, and forbidding [people] to pay [their] taxes.’ They also accused Him of ‘…saying that He [was]…a King.’ So not only were they pursuing Him civilly, but they were also charging Him with Criminal Impersonation and Felony Tax Evasion. If prosecuted, those charges would have carried a maximum sentence of 9 years, today. Yet, these officials were seeking the death penalty.
After hearing their argument, Judge Pilate was determined to dismiss the case, with a recommendation that the Sanhedrin, ‘…judge Him according to [Mosaic] law.’ (Jn 18:31) This meant that under Roman law, Jesus hadn’t committed a crime punishable by death. Nevertheless, before Pilate could rule, the prosecutor, i.e. the chief priests and Pharisees, told the judge that it was against Mosaic law to seek the death penalty which is why the case was brought before his court. That closing argument didn’t fare well before the Judge because he knew this was a civil matter and should have never been brought before a Roman court. Unfortunately, the same judge had been the subject of a federal corruption investigation, not to mention, he was up for reelection. So, in an attempt to appease his constituents, he ruled in favor of a mistrial and requested for the trial to be moved to,‘…Herod’s jurisdiction’ (Lk. 23:7), which was in Galilee.
While in Galilean custody, Jesus was interrogated again. Only this time, He exercised His fifth amendment right which upset the chief priests and scribes, who then became verbally abusive. Thereafter, Judge Herod (i.e. King Herod) ordered Him back into Pilate’s custody which meant the case would now be retried before a jury of Jesus’ peers. By this time, the smear campaign against Jesus had begun. Because of the public uproar, the judge ruled and sentenced Jesus to death. After He was sentenced, He was scourged, or as we might say today, brutally beaten while in police custody. Thereafter, He was put to death by crucifixion. So as you can see police brutality and false imprisonment does appear in the Bible, and the Lord Himself was a victim. But so that we may further establish police brutality in scripture, let’s look at another example which can be found in the book of Acts.
Another Act of Police Brutality in the Bible
In Acts 16:16-22 we find another incident of police brutality. It reads, ‘Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed…us…saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And [the spirit of divination] came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the…magistrates… commanded them to be beaten with rods.’ Here we have Paul and Silas, two ministers of the gospel, hosting a conference when they encounter a local teenager. Though there seemed no harm in what she was doing, her proclamations led to a lot of negative publicity. So much so, local business owners accused Paul and Silas of wrongdoing and demanded their arrest to which law enforcement obliged. One point I’d like to make is that when they were brought before the court, the business owners referred to them as “these men, being Jews.” Why would they make it a point to bring up the fact they were Jews? It’s because they were not. Paul and Silas were in Philippi which is in Greece which means these Greek businessmen were incensed at the fact Jews caused their business to slow down. Had they been Greek, they probably wouldn’t have accused them of their decline. Therefore, this was not only religious bigotry but racial bigotry as well. After they were taken into custody, it should be note that both Paul and Silas were brutally beaten by police. And thus we see again, yet another example of police brutality in the scriptures. Thus, answering our question: Is police brutality in the Bible? Yes, both the Lord, Paul the Apostle, and Silas were victims. The question now becomes: What can we do about it? That my dear reader, I’m still waiting for but until then…
Pray this with me: Heavenly Father, thank You for letting us know that what we see now also happened back then. Therefore, what’s going on today is nothing new to You. Lord, I ask You to give us a solution. Not just us Lord, but me. What can I do Lord? Whatever it is Heavenly Father, please know, I will do it. And Lord, those who have been victims, I ask that You’d heal and comfort. In Jesus’ name.
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1 - https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/types-cases/criminal-cases
2 - Merriam Webster’s Dictionary