In our last post from the book of John, Jesus told Pilate, “I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” And we discussed what it means to be “of the truth,” as Jesus put it. (see previous post Jesus, Pilate, and Truth (and the gods I worshiped))
Today we’ll look at John 18:39 – 19:16, and we’ll see what Pilate and the Jews decide to do with Jesus, and why that’s such an important decision.
Jesus, Pilate, and the Angry Mob
Pilate says to the Jews, “You have a custom that I should release one criminal for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?”
They cried out, again and again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Barabbas, the murderer, robber, and insurrectionist.
We see here a great irony. They’re crying for the release of a notorious insurrectionist and murderer guilty of his crimes. And, they’re crying for the torture and execution of a an innocent man. Someone with absolutely no pattern of participation in insurrection. Their charge against him is that he made himself king is baseless. (Luke 23:19, Mark 15:7, Matthew 27:16)
Then Pilate had his soldiers flog Jesus. According to Keener: “Free Romans were beaten with rods, soldiers with sticks, but slaves and probably despised non-Romans with whips whose leather thongs enclosed sharp pieces of metal or bone. . . . texts report that bones or entrails were sometimes bared.”
And they twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. Then they came up to him and mocked him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him with their hands.
Pilate went out again to the people and said, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know: I find no guilt in him.”
Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.
Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”
When the religious leaders saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”
The Jews said, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”
Here we see that the Jews recognized Jesus’ claim that he was deity. And that, along with envy, was one of their reasons for wanting him dead. On another occasion Jesus said,
“I and the Father are one.”
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
This reminds me of an especially relevant quote from C. S. Lewis:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
When Pilate heard them say, “he made himself the Son of God,” he was even more afraid. Did Pilate know that Jesus was God’s only Son, the third person of the Trinity? I’m not sure about that. But it may be at this point Pilate knows Jesus is more than a man.
Pilate went back into his headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?”
Jesus remained silent.
Pilate said, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?”
Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. It was the sixth hour, the day of the Preparation of the Passover. He said to the Jews,
“Behold your King!”
They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!”
Pilate said, “Shall I crucify your King?”
The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
So Pilate delivered him over to them to be crucified.
What Does Pilate Do With Jesus?
It’s interesting to see how Pilate recognized Jesus was innocent. “I find no guilt in him,” Pilate said, more than once.
The Centurion who was part of the team that executed Jesus said the same. “Certainly this man was innocent!” he said.
Even Judas Iscariot the betrayer recognized Jesus’ innocence. He eventually changed his mind and told the religious leaders, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”
Here in our text we see that Pilate not only recognized Jesus’ innocence, but he may have even recognized Jesus was more than a man.
So Pilate, knowing Jesus was innocent, and knowing Jesus may be more than a man, decided to give him over to be crucified anyway.
Ultimately, the Jews politicized the decision. They said, “If you release him, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”
The Caesar they spoke of was Caesar Tiberius. And “Tiberius was suspicious of even the least talk of treason, and a delegation to Rome providing the slightest evidence that Pilate had supported a self-proclaimed king could lead to Pilate’s beheading.” (Keener)
So Pilate delivered Jesus over to be crucified, not because he was guilty as charged, but because Pilate couldn’t afford the political fallout had he judged him innocent.
What Do I Do With Jesus?
I think I was a lot like Pilate when I was an atheist, before I became a Christian. I had the same decision to make that he did:
What do I do with Jesus?
Everyone of us has to make that decision.
When I was an atheist, I confess, at first I didn’t know much about Jesus. Then as I learned more, I began to realize he was innocent, of everything and anything. Then I began to realize he was more than a man.
But I still rejected him. Because like Pilate, I had reasons for rejecting Jesus that had nothing to do with merit. I had reasons to reject him even though I knew he was more than a man. They were political reasons. I was afraid my emperor, power hungry as he was, wouldn’t approve of me recognizing Jesus as my King.
My emperor jealously guarded his throne. My emperor was paranoid about someone taking his place. And,
My emperor was me.
Not every unbeliever rejects Christ for this reason but I think many fall into this category, even though they would never admit it.
Most of us have a powerful desire to remain on the emperor’s throne, in control of our own lives, making decisions for ourselves unencumbered.
Only thing is, there are consequences for killing God.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, pp. 310-311