Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 27, 2001
Quite a few years ago I was able to witness our justice system at work in the case of a friend of mine. As this man’s spiritual leader and confidant, I knew what the truth was in the case. If the end result had not been so tragic it would have been funny to watch the two lawyers involved go back and forth trying to convince the jury that they were the ones trying to uphold the law. The tragedy was that neither of them were interested in the truth and having justice carried out. While our system of law may still be one of the better ones in the world, the reality I witnessed proved that it was not really a “justice” system. True justice will only come when Jesus Christ is on the throne as judge. Until then we can only attempt to fairly apply the law.
Do cases where justice fails demonstrate that God is either uncaring or not active? No. This morning we are going to examine a very unjust trial. The judge in the case will conclude that the accused is innocent, yet will still unjustly sentence Him to death. The sentence is completely unjust, but it actually demonstrated that God was in complete control of the situation and even used the sin of men to bring about what needed to happen. Turn to John 18:28
In our last study in the book of John, we examined Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, and illegal and unjust trial before the Jewish religious leaders. This morning we pick up the story as the Jewish religious leaders take Jesus before the Roman authorities to have the death sentence pronounced upon Jesus.
Initial Accusations (18:28-32)
They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Pilate therefore went out to them, and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” 31 Pilate therefore 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 that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.
Remember that these Jewish religious leaders were trying to avoid the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, so it is very early in the morning when all of this takes place. Pilate will pronounce his sentence on Jesus by around 6 a.m.
Jesus is taken from Caiaphas’ house to the Praetorium, which was the official residence of the Roman governor. They do not enter into the Praetorium themselves because they did not want to risk defiling themselves by being in a Gentile home before they ate the Passover meal. This is a case of gross religious hypocrisy. They were worried about becoming ceremonially defiled, but they had no concern about the illegal arrest and trial of Jesus or the evil they were now bringing about. But that is the nature of religious hypocrites. They are very concerned about the minute details of their own religious standards, but have little or no concern for God’s commands.
John’s comment about them eating Passover creates a question about when Passover occurred. Remember that Jesus and the disciples ate Passover the previous evening. There are two possible solutions. The first is that this is only in reference to these Jewish religious leaders who had been so preoccupied with arranging Jesus’ arrest and trial that they had delayed eating it themselves until the following day. However, that does not seem to fit the character of people who so closely observe the minutia of their religious practices that they would put off such an important ceremony. The second solution can be found in the different method of time keeping among the Galileans who started the day with sunrise and Judeans who started the day with sunset. This would allow the Galileans to slaughter and eat the Passover on Thursday and the Judeans to do so on Friday. This would also allow Jesus to be able to eat the Passover with His disciples and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday.
After they arrive at the Praetorium, someone gets Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, and he comes out to them. Pilate held the civil, criminal and military authority for the area, but he in turn was under the authority of the legate of Syria. It is early in the morning, but it was common for people of the ancient world to be up very early.
Pilate’s first question is the logical one about why Jesus has been brought to him. Their answer, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you,” shows antagonism between Pilate and these Jews. It is not an answer, but a statement designed to intimidate. In other words, “Don’t ask questions, just confirm what we have already decided and do what we ask.”
The Jews had a lot of freedom to set and carry out their own laws even though they were under Roman rule. Not knowing even the nature of the charges, Pilate properly refers Jesus back to them to be sentenced and punished according to their own laws. Only then does he find out that the charge is serious requiring death of the accused. Luke 23:2 records the specific charges that Jesus is “misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”
John comments here in verse 32 that the reason for all this was so that Jesus would die the proper type of death. Their statement about being concerned about not carrying out capital punishment except with Roman approval was a lie. That had not stopped them in the past, nor would it stop them in the future, from executing someone. They had already tried to kill Jesus several times. The book of Acts records that they were not hesitant about stoning Stephen (Acts 7). They were able to get away with mob actions, but they could not crucify a man and that was important to them. Deuteronomy 21:22 states that a person who committed a sin worthy of death was to be hung on a tree. Their goal was to destroy Jesus’ reputation by having Him crucified on a tree and thus show that He was cursed by God. Little did they realize that was the precise reason and way that Jesus Himself said He would die (John 3:14). He would take on Himself the curse of man’s sin.
After this exchange, Pilate brings Jesus into the Praetorium for questioning.
Pilate’s First Questioning (18:33-40)
Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You up to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate ^said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and ^said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. 39 “But you have a custom, that I should release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 Therefore they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
The charges that were made against Jesus (Luke 23:2) were serious and needed to be investigated, especially the accusation that Jesus was claiming to be a king. In the Roman legal system it was proper for Pilate to question Jesus directly and so Jesus responds to his question about whether He was a king. Of course, Jesus, though He was the prisoner, was the one who was in control. He could not answer Pilate’s question until it was first clarified in what sense Pilate was asking about Jesus being a king. Jesus was not a political king, but He was even then the real spiritual king of the true Jews.
Pilate’s response indicates some of his own disdain for the Jews. He did not get along with them very well at all. He was not a Jew and was only asking the question because that was the accusation, but Pilate could see that Jesus gave no appearance of being a political king, especially since it was the Jewish religious leaders that brought him. It is likely he suspected there was something else behind their accusations. Pilate simply wants to know what Jesus had done to get them so upset to seek His death.
This opened the door for Jesus to explain Himself and the nature of His kingship. Jesus makes two points in verse 36. First, He is a king. Second, He was not a political king otherwise His followers would be physically fighting to protect Him. This is further clarified in verse 37. Pilate does not understand how Jesus could be a king and not have an earthly kingdom. Jesus affirms Pilate’s rhetorical question. It was just as Pilate said. That is the sense of, “You say that I am a king.” Jesus was a king and it was for that very purpose that Jesus had been born and come into the world. Jesus did not inherit His kingdom or gain it through revolution. He was born a king. The alien nature of this kingdom is seen in that it was for this purpose “He came into the world.” Jesus was not from the earth, but from another realm, namely heaven. His kingdom was not based on earthly values, but was related only to those who would listen to the truth to which Jesus was testifying. It was a kingdom of those who sought and listened to the truth.
Pilate’s cynicism is seen in his statement in verse 38, “What is truth?” Certainly Pilate had seen enough of cruelty and injustice during his life to have given up any idealism he may have had as a youth. He is governor over a people he does not understand or like. The Emperor, Tiberius, is a suspicious man, so Pilate must be very careful not to attract his attention in the wrong way. That makes it difficult to govern. And Pilate, like many of the leading Romans of the time, had probably given up the traditional pagan beliefs about the gods, though there was still enough belief to leave them superstitious. The truth was standing before him, but Pilate’s skepticism and cynicism did not allow him to see it.
That Pilate was not looking for an answer to his question is seen in that he immediately turns and goes out to the Jews to pronounce the verdict of his investigation. He found no guilt in Jesus.
Luke records that at this pronouncement the council from the Sanhedrin kept insisting that Jesus was seditious and had started in Galilee. Upon hearing this Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at the time, because Herod was governor over Galilee. Herod did not find any base for the charges either, and so sent him back to Pilate.
In effect, Pilate was looking for someway to get rid of the problem. Pilate was afraid of the Jews. He had already had quite a bit of trouble with them in the past and wanted to avoid problems in the future if he could. He had lost to them in confrontations in the past. Once he had his soldiers bring their ensigns with them into Jerusalem and to Fort Antonio which sat on the edge of the temple. This was sacrilege to the Jews. He threatened to kill those that came to protest, but they called his bluff and he backed down. At another time he used money from the temple treasury to pay for an aqueduct. This caused a riot which he tried to stop by having his soldiers club them into submission. Pilate and the Jews did not get along with each other and he already had concluded that Jesus had been delivered up because of the chief priests’ envy (Matt. 27:18)
That is why tries to find some way to appease them. He points out to the Jews the custom that had developed for a prisoner to be released during the feast. He sees this as a way out of the dilemma he was in. If he had been a man of justice and integrity, he would have simply released Jesus, but he also wanted to in some way appease the Jews. His thought was straightforward. He certainly must have known at least a little bit about the fame and popularity of Jesus considering the acclaim given to Him only a few days earlier when he came into Jerusalem. He would offer them the choice of freeing either a notorious robber, Barabbas, or the acclaimed Jesus. It probably did not help that he referred to Jesus here as the king of the Jews, but he could not resist the temptation to mock them. Here was Jesus, a bound prisoner and seemingly helpless presented as king of the Jews. Some king. How could Pilate have suspected the hatred of the religious leaders for Jesus would extend so far as for them to cry out for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus.
I should point out here that even in the case of Barabbas there is a cameo of the gospel. Guilty Barabbas went free because the innocent Jesus took his place. Each of us is guilty of many sins against God because we disobeyed His commandments, but we can go free because Jesus took our place and paid sin’s penalty for us.
The demand for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus puts Pilate in a more desperate position to find some way to appease them and yet not give into their desire to crucify Jesus, whom he had found to be innocent. His next effort is to inflict Jesus with a lesser penalty.
Jesus is Scourged and Mocked (19:1-8)
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and arrayed Him in a purple robe; 3 and they [began] to come up to Him, and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him blows [in the face.] 4 And Pilate came out again, and ^said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus therefore came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And [Pilate] ^said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 When therefore the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate ^said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 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.” 8 When Pilate therefore heard this statement, he was the more afraid; Scourging was a vicious punishment, but in Pilate’s mind it was at least less than having Jesus crucified. Scourging involved being whipped by scourge, which was a short wooden handle to which were attached several leather thongs which had pieces of lead, brass and sharp bits of bone tied to them. Usually the victim was bent over with his back laid bare. The scourge would tear and lacerate the skin, and depending on how many strikes were applied, it could turn a person’s back into a bloody pulp with inner organs sometimes being exposed. Pilate’s hope was that this horrible treatment might invoke sympathy for Jesus.
But the torture did not end with the scourging. The texts are not clear if Pilate was present for this or not, but his soldiers then mocked Jesus. There are many plants in Judea from which the crown of thorns could have been made. Tradition has it that it was a Palinrus shrub or Spina christi which as long thorns and leaves that resemble the ivy used to crown emperors and generals. The blood would have flowed from Jesus’ head. In addition they dressed Jesus in a purple robe in a mock coronation. The soldiers mocked Jesus, spat upon him and struck Him with their fists while taunting Him to prophecy who had hit Him. Jesus endured all of this, as 1 Peter 2:21-24 states, “while being reviled , He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
After this is all done, Pilate goes out to the Jews still waiting outside the Praetorium and again pronounces his verdict that he found no guilt in Jesus. He then brought Jesus out still wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe which would have been heavily stained now with His blood. Again, Pilate’s effort was designed to invoke sympathy for Jesus so that he could then release Him without the Jews being antagonized by it. Jesus was innocent and should have been released at the beginning, but Pilate does not have high honor or integrity nor is he trying to uphold true justice. He is trying to find a compromise. He calls on them to look at the pathetic sight of Jesus in the midst of His suffering, but like a pack of sharks, they smell blood and the want more.
Verse 6 points out that it was specifically the chief priests and their officers that start the loud chanting of, “Crucify, crucify!” Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that Pilate tried to reason with the crowd, but the more he did, the more the cried out to crucify Jesus. They were becoming a mob. And then, they struck fear into the heart of Pilate with their accusation that Jesus should die because He had violated their law and was worthy of death because He made Himself out to be the Son of God. It is blasphemy for a man to claim to be God, but it is not blasphemy for Jesus to make the claim because it is true. Pilate already knew there was something very different about Jesus, but this was a scary thought to a man raised in paganism. For him it was a scary thought to consider that Jesus might be a son of one of the gods. If this was true, what retribution would the gods bring upon him? And so he brings Jesus back into the Praetorium to find out if this was true. Understand that Matthew records that just before Pilate had Jesus scourged, his wife and come to him saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” Was this because Jesus was a deity?
Pilate’s Second Questioning (19:9-11)
and he entered into the Praetorium again, and ^said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore ^said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has [the] greater sin.”
If Pilate had paid attention to what Jesus had said earlier, he would have already had a clue about where Jesus was from. But then, if he had understood that he would have already released Jesus and surely would never have scourged Him. Pilate deserves no answer and Jesus gives him none. Pilate is afraid and he covers the fear up with an effort to put himself back in the position of authority. It is not an uncommon thing for people who are afraid to boast to cover it up.
Jesus’ answer takes Pilate off guard. Here is a man that has claimed to be a king and is charged with being the Son of God, yet He understands authority and is Himself submissive to it. Jesus does not deny Pilate’s authority to release or crucify Him, but simply points out that Pilate’s authority came from someone else with even higher authority. Pilate would be accountable to the higher authorities in all his actions. Jesus, of course, was referring to God (Rom. 13:1), but whether Pilate understood that or thought of the legate in Syria or the Emperor is unknown. However, it was clear that there was no sedition in Jesus. He was not rebellious against Roman rule.
The greater sin belonged to those that had delivered Him to Pilate, for they had not received any authority from God to do what they did. The High Priest and the Sanhedrin had authority, but they had exceeded it when they illegally tried and brought Jesus to Pilate to confirm their sentence of death. Pilate was corrupt and cowardly, but he was also ignorant of much of what was occurring. Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were not. They were well aware of their illegal activity in trying to have Jesus crucified.
Pilate’s Failure (19:12-16)
If Pilate had integrity and sought justice, he would have released Jesus after the first questioning. Certainly after he had wrongly had Jesus scourged and this second questioning, if Pilate had any honor or decency, he should have released Jesus. But Pilate is not such a man and verses 12-16 record his greatest failure of character.
John 19:12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out [to be] a king opposes Caesar.” 13 When Pilate therefore heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he ^said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 They therefore cried out, “Away with [Him], away with [Him,] crucify Him!” Pilate ^said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then delivered Him to them to be crucified.”
Admittedly, Pilate made more efforts to release Jesus, but he utterly failed because he lacked the integrity to do what was right. Pilate, by his own admission, had the authority to release Jesus. His problem was that he did not want to do so unless he could get the Jews to agree to it. He had, in effect, given over his authority in the decision to the Jews.
There were two things that were causing Pilate to be fearful which led to his giving in to the desire of the mob to crucify Jesus. First, their statement that if he released Jesus he would not be a friend of Caesar. The threat was hardly veiled. If Pilate did not agree to crucify Jesus they would tell Emperor Tiberias that Pilate released someone who claimed to be a king. Tiberias was a very suspicious man and would not like a king released. Pilate knew that these Jews had no loyalty to Caesar and were lying in verse 15, but he also knew they would carry out their threat. Second, after Pilate brought Jesus out the crowd became worse. He could not resist mocking them by presenting Jesus proclaiming, “Behold, your king!” The mob became unruly crying out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him.” Pilate clarified the issue asking, “Should I crucify your king?” They then claimed to have no king but Caesar. They had no loyalty to Caesar, but in a sense, this was true, for they had rejected God in human flesh who was their true king for the rule of man. Matthew 27:24 points out that a riot was starting and Pilate wanted to avoid that. Matthew then adds that Pilate took a bowl of water and washed his hands in front of the people claiming that he was innocent of Jesus’ blood and it would be upon them. The people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
Pilate proved to be a failure when he turned Jesus over to the soldiers to be prepared for crucifixion. He failed in character. He failed in his efforts to release Jesus. He failed in his effort to be innocent of Jesus’ blood. Water could not wash him clean of his guilt. The only thing that would be able to do so would be Jesus’ blood shed for the remission of the sins of man. But Pilate did not seek out Jesus’ forgiveness in the present and he would not do so in the future. Pilate did have problems with the Jews in the years following this and had to go to Rome to answer the charges, Eusebius states that Pilate “was forced to become his own slayer.”
If you do not have Jesus as your savior today, don’t be like Pilate. The evidence is in and the verdict pronounced. Jesus is exactly who He claimed. He is the Son of God. He is without sin, and He is king over everything. Pilate failed because he rejected the truth. What will you do?
Christians, do not fret when you encounter injustice in this world. Do not expect true justice until Jesus reigns on earth. Our God is still in control. He is powerful enough to even use injustice to further His plans. He did so with Jesus. He can do so in your life.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the name “Pilate” is mentioned 2) Talk with your parents about Pilate’s failure and your own verdict on Jesus
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What experience have you had with our “justice” system? What are the initial accusations against Jesus? What had happened to Jesus the previous night? Who is Pilate? What was his authority and responsibilities? Why did the Jews want Jesus to be crucified? Why was it needed in God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified? Describe Pilate’s relationship with the Jews. Why didn’t Jesus answer Pilate’s question directly? What is the nature of Jesus’ kingship? What are some reasons that might have made Pilate so cynical about truth? Why is Pilate interested in appeasing the Jews instead of just doing what he wants? What did Pilate know about there reason the Jews had brought Jesus to him? Why does he offer to release Jesus according to the Passover custom? What did Pilate hope to accomplish by having Jesus scourged? Describe scourging. What other evil things did the soldiers do to Jesus? John 19:8 says that Pilate was more afraid – what made him so afraid? What was the point of his second questioning of Jesus? Why did the Sanhedrin have the greater sin? Why did he finally agree to crucify Jesus? What were Pilate’s failures?
Initial Accusations (18:28-32)
Religious hypocrites are very concerned about the minute details of their own religious standards, but have little to no concern about God’s actual commandments.
Why crucifixion was necessary
Pilate’s First Questioning (18:33-40)
Jesus in control
The Nature of Jesus’ kingship
Trying to get Jesus off his hands
Releasing a Prisoner
Jesus is Scourged and Mocked (19:1-7)
Pilate’s Second Questioning (19:8-11)
Who is Jesus?
Pilate’s Failures (19:9-16)
Second: cf Matthew 27:24,25
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