Our story has progressed from where we left off last time. Jesus and the disciples left the upper room and went to the garden where Jesus was arrested while at prayer. His response to their demand for Him of “I am he” proved to be enlightening to the soldiers and guards who had come to take Him in, but He went along quietly in order to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose. He was taken before the Jewish leaders, roughed up and convicted of a phony charge in a joke of a trial. Peter, as Jesus had predicted, denied knowing Jesus three times, and now, early the next morning He is taken before Pilate, the ranking Roman official, for trial, because only the Romans could impose capital punishment.
In vv. 28-32, the Jews approach Pilate with the request that he condemn Jesus to death. Note that Pilate doesn’t seem interested in granting them their wish. Note also the way they have approached him: First, they cannot enter the palace because they would be “unclean” and ineligible to participate in the Passover meal, so Pilate must come out to them. One might wonder what their ceremonial condition was after the role they played in putting the Son of God to death! The upshot of the exchange so far is that they need the Romans to agree to an execution, and oh by the way, Jesus had predicted the manner of his death in 3:14.
Pilate has Jesus brought to him for a few questions; one can’t help having a little sympathy for old Pilate here. Jesus, like the Jews outside isn’t all that respectful of Pilate’s predicament in His answer to Pilate’s first question about whether or not He was a king. “Is that your own idea…?” Pilate’s answer to Jesus’ question reveals that he wants nothing to do with any of this; “Am I a Jew?” The rest of his question in v. 35 is basically ‘what have you done to tick these people off?’ The answer he receives in the next verse is the crucial point of the text:
“My kingdom is not of this world.” It is from “another place.” The Jews were looking for the Messiah to bring a kingdom to the world; a worldly kingdom. It would throw the Romans out, defeat their enemies and restore the former glory of Israel, and the Jewish leaders would have tremendous power in that earthly kingdom. Jesus actually came with an entirely different kind of kingdom; a kingdom of faith and forgiveness. Forgiveness was the last thing the Jewish leaders were concerned about.
Pilate jumps on the king aspect: “You are a king then?” If Jesus were an aspiring king without the endorsement of the Roman government, then it could be asserted that He was plotting treason against Caesar. Even now, however, Pilate is troubled by this whole thing; he isn’t buying the idea that Jesus is a threat to the government. In His answer, Jesus admits to being a king, but again demonstrates that He is not an earthly king, for His reason for being born is to testify to the truth. In all likelihood, Pilate would have a hard time putting truth and kings together as treason. In fact, as we also know, kings, governments and truth are strange bedfellows. Pilate’s response to Jesus’ truth assertion shows us all we need to know about him: “What is truth?” It reveals a high level of frustration as it is one of the great unanswered questions of worldly life. Little did Pilate know, Jesus had answered this question earlier: “I am the way, the truth and the life” The answer to the great question about truth is that Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth.
Pilate goes back outside and tries again to end the standoff with the Jewish leaders, announcing that he finds no basis for any charge against Jesus. In doing this, he of course is speaking in terms of Roman law. He reminds the people that the Romans offer an annual pardon to a Jewish prisoner at the Passover, sort of a goodwill gesture. The Jews want Jesus dead and silent; they demand a man who deserves to die for the safety of the public. Their hatred of Jesus and the truth that He has brought to them from God Himself; the truth that they should be rejoicing for, is so great that they will do anything to be rid of Him and by extension God. It is really a shocking and reprehensible thing they are doing, one that they will pay dearly for in the future. It is also an indication of how many will react to the truth of simple Christianity for centuries to come… as Jesus warned his disciples in the upper room.
These verses comprise one of the most amazing narratives in all of world literature. They tell a terrible story of betrayal, hypocrisy, and weakness, evil and hate, yet through this quagmire of politics, dishonesty and intrigue God’s great eternal purpose is assured. Irony? That would be putting it mildly! These verses tell the story of Jesus’ condemnation to the cross, a story in which there are no heroes, villains aplenty and in which the system of this world is manipulated to condemn the very Son of God by the most religious of all God’s people: It is shameful, penetrating and a source of great insight into the motivations of those who will oppose God.
After Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus was thwarted in favor of Barabbas (18:39-40) Pilate orders Jesus flogged, a very severe application of torture that would precede crucifixion or that could be a form of punishment on its own. These verses describe briefly the treatment that Jesus suffers at the hands of his soldiers and the “fun” they have with Him, and then Pilate goes back out to the mob to once again attempt to release Jesus.
Pilate has told them he can find no basis for a charge against Jesus, and when Jesus appears he makes his fateful statement, “Behold the man” (KJV). What the crowd was “beholding” was a man broken by torture. Bleeding, beaten, bruised and in a condition fit only for the Emergency Room, there stood Jesus not looking like much of a threat to anyone. The bloodthirsty crowds led by their holy religious leaders go crazy demanding His crucifixion. It could be that Pilate thought they would be appeased by the sight; if so, he was mistaken. His frustration is clearly evident when he says, “You crucify him!” The Jews will not relent; they want their Messiah dead and silenced once and for all.
In verse 7 the Jews finally tell Pilate the real reason they want Jesus dead: He has claimed to be the Son of God. In a sense they were right; making such a claim was a capital offense in the Law… unless of course Jesus was telling the truth. Pilate’s reaction was one of fear, and he goes back into the Palace taking Jesus with him. It is not clear from the text exactly what the source of his fear was: Was he afraid of an insurrection, or was he afraid of Jesus? In any event, Pilate asks Jesus a surprisingly intelligent question: “Where are you from?” The turning point in Jesus’ relationship with His disciples was when they finally came to realize that He had come from God, but when Pilate asks, Jesus is not going to answer. The hour for Him to die has come; it is the reason He has come to earth; everything hinges on this. Pilate points out that he has the power to have Jesus crucified, and this time Jesus does answer him. Jesus reminds Pilate that his authority is not his own, but that it came from above, in the immediate sense from his Roman superiors and in the larger sense from God. Such a reply under the circumstances is truly impressive. It is as though Jesus were trying to make Pilate feel better about his position when He pointed out that the leaders of the mob outside (the chief priests) have the greater guilt in the situation; Pilate is a pawn in a much bigger drama between God and Satan.
Pilate wants this to end, and he wants no part in killing Jesus. The mob responds with a threat to his career, having forgotten all about their religious claim; incredible the length of disingenuousness that they will go to!
There are many opinions about Pilate’s words in the final verses (13-16), but it seems to me that his frustration has turned to anger toward the Jewish leaders. He brings Jesus back out and sits in the judge’s seat. Whatever he announces from here is legally binding. Pilate’s reference to Jesus as “your king” in vv. 14-15 is a deliberate taunt to the crowd. Here is the pagan Roman governor sitting in judgment over the broken and bloody man they want killed and calling Him their king is incredibly insulting to a people who see God Himself as their ultimate king. Pilate is rubbing their noses in the fact that pagans rule the proud Jews; he has had enough of them.
And then it happens…
The chief priests shout back that they “have no king but Caesar!”
Now who has committed blasphemy and treachery? One can imagine the foundations of Heaven itself quaking at that moment. Pilate does what he has to do, and Jesus is taken away to save the world by shedding His precious blood on the cross.
Surely the word “perfidy” came into being to describe this scene.
Before the next lesson, carefully read what happened next in John 19:17-42; our story will pick up after that.