Studies in the gospel of John
Lesson 53 What Will You do with Jesus?”
From time to time we hear about a person’s heroic effort to save someone else’s life. And very often that attempt consists of several steps, some of which fail and are followed by even more desperate steps, all of them at great risk to the rescuer. And what we have in the last verses of John chapter 18 and the opening verses of chapter 19, is something like that – but different. In this case it was not a hero trying to do the saving, but actually a coward. Even though he was trying to do the right thing, he was trying desperately to keep from hurting himself in the process.
As we saw in chapter 18, Pilate the Roman governor of Judea, could easily see that Jesus was an innocent man, and did not want to see him executed. But at the same time he was afraid of the politically powerful Jews who were trying to bring that execution about. So in chapter 18 he began trying to find ways in which to satisfy their demands without actually killing Jesus. First, Luke 23:16 tells us that he suggested just scourging Jesus and letting Him go. John tells us in chapter 18 that when that failed, he came up with the idea of releasing Barabbas, thinking that Barabbas was so notorious that they would choose to release Jesus instead, but that failed too. So in the opening verses of chapter 19 to which we now come in our study of the Gospel of John he scourges Jesus anyway and then allows his soldiers to stage a mockery of the “King of the Jews.”
To get the flow of all of this let’s think first about the overview of chapter 19:
In verses 1 through 16 we find The deliberations about Jesus. Then in verses 17 through 30 we see The death of Jesus, and finally in verses 31 through 42 we have The descent of Jesus from the cross and into the grave.
So let’s look first at the deliberations about Jesus that we find continuing in verses 1 through 16
As we have already alluded to, the atmosphere of the deliberations is described in verses 1 through 5
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him (2) And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on him a purple robe. (3) Then they said, “Hail, king of the Jews! “And they struck him with their hands, (4) Pilate then went out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” (5) Then Jesus came out wearing the crown and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man”
What a situation in which to conduct a discussion about what to do with a prisoner! The Roman practice of scourging often killed prisoners by itself. Although it obviously didn’t kill Jesus, it probably contributed to the fact that He broke down under the weight of the cross later on. And from the human standpoint the mockery must have been just as excruciating from the emotional and psychological standpoints. And from the judicial standpoint there is nothing in legal history to compare with it. Since when must a judge obtain the consent of the accuser for a verdict which he himself has determined? Since when does a judge treat his own verdict as temporary until the accuser gives his approval? Since when does the accuser make a judge alter his verdict if the verdict does not satisfy the accuser? Whether Pilate realized all this or not, the Jews certainly did, and they used it to their advantage in the coming verses. But as we said earlier, this may have been Pilate’s plan to get the Jews to let Him go.
So out of that atmosphere comes the arguments in the deliberations in verses 6 and 7
Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him they cried out, saying “crucify Him,” Crucify Him.” Pilate said to them, you take him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” (7) The Jews answered him, we have a law and according to our law He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God.”
Pilate’s cowardly, lawless strategy didn’t work – the leaders of the Jews simply outshouted him in verse 6. His statement in the second half of verse 6 – “you take him and crucify Him” shows his disdain for the Jews – he and they both knew that they couldn’t crucify Him. However, we need to understand that it wasn’t his conscience or even his belief in the innocence of Jesus that kept him from giving in to them, it was only His competitive pride. But in verse 7 they come back at him from another direction: there is a Jewish law that provides execution.
He has been saying repeatedly that he finds no grounds in Roman law to execute Jesus. So now they change horses in the middle of the stream and say that He should be executed for a Jewish crime – blasphemy. Finally, the truth comes out! They had tried everything they could think of to impress Pilate with a crime by Jesus but nothing had worked. So finally they have to give their real reason for wanting Him dead! It was not true that He had gone around proclaiming Himself to be a political king as they had originally claimed. What He had actually done was to declare Himself publicly and repeatedly to be the Son of God. And here is the beautiful thing: the sovereignty of God provided that Jesus was condemned to death, not on some trumped up charge, but on a charge of which the exact opposite was true. Jesus had proved repeatedly and unequivocally that He was God. And the Jewish leaders were rejecting Him in spite of that. And God arranged things in such a way that that that fact is clearly recorded in history.
Now we have seen “the atmosphere” in which Jesus’ trial was conducted, and “the arguments” that were presented in it. So now in verses 8 through 11 we see who actually had the accountability for the deliberations. First notice the request that Pilate makes in verses 8 and 9a:
Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “where are you from . . .”
As we have seen, Pilate had several motives intertwined in his dealings with Jesus and the Jews. But here we see that there was also a certain degree of fear and superstition involved. He had to have been impressed with Jesus’ calm demeanor during all of this. And Matthew tells us that his wife had clearly warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus. And now comes “that saying” as John puts it, that Jesus is claiming to be God. And the saying is coming not from Jesus, but from His accusers! What if they were right? What if by some wild chance this were one of the gods that he had had scourged and mocked? What kind of vengeance would the gods wreak on him if this were true? So it is no surprise that in verse 9a He went into the praetorium and asked Jesus “where are you from” But the reply is a little surprising in verse 9b: But Jesus gave Him no answer . . .” Why would Jesus do this? Surely Jesus wanted him to know the truth, didn’t He? And in the past he had answered Pilate’s questions freely. What is wrong now?
Martin Luther suggests: “He had already given Pilate an answer which was abundant enough in chapter 18:37:
I am a king. For this cause I was born, and to this end I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”
But Pilate had mockingly replied, “what is truth?” Why repeat that testimony? His silence was an answer in and of itself. And so, in verse 10 we have Pilate’s response:
Then Pilate said to Him, “Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”
Here Pilate’s real motive in all of this comes into view: His supreme pride, which considers the silence of Jesus an insult. He talks as though he had the power to bestow life or death with the turn of his hand. And yet in reality he is a pathetic figure – thinking of himself as so great and mighty and yet swaying like a reed in the wind in dealing with the Jews. First the possibility of Jesus actually being “God’s Son” unnerves him, next he thunders as though he were a god and the true son of God a beggar. And so in verse 11 Jesus points out the reality of the situation.
Jesus answered and said You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”
Although Jesus was silent in reply to Pilate’s question in verse 9, it is fitting that He answer this one. Silence at this point would have meant that Jesus agreed that Pilate had the power over Him that he so proudly claims. And when He refers to Pilate’s power being “from above” He doesn’t mean it was from Caesar, but from God, but just a human understanding of what was right with this situation.
Then in verse 12b we see the insistence of the Jews:
But the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”
Apparently Pilate announced his intention to let Jesus go, and this was the response of the Jews. And this time they find exactly the right term to reach Pilate: “Caesar’s friend.” This was a formal title granted to Roman citizens and bureaucrats who distinguished them in service to the Emperor. It is possible that at some time Pilate had received this honor or that he was known to covet it, but there is no record of either one. But from his reaction, it is obvious that it was very important to Pilate – Roman emperors never hesitated to sacrifice any official about whose loyalty there was the slightest doubt. If word got back to the emperor that he had released a man who had been charged with insurrection, not only would he never receive the title “friend of Caesar,” very possibly he could even be executed.
And so in verses 13 through 16 the inconsistency of Pilate comes into full bloom: First we see his character in verses 13 and 14
When Pilate therefore heard that saying he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called “the pavement,” but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your king!”
The phrase “sat down in the judgement seat indicates that Pilate was about to give his official sentence. But he uses the opportunity insult them still more while making them wait for his actual verdict – “behold your king,” he says. The last thing they want is to have Jesus recognized as a king. But now it comes to them as a “semi-official statement from the Roman government! And here we see again the real character of this weakling comes out: he is too weak for courageous mastery of the Jews, but strong in verbal insults that will ultimately amount to nothing.
But John’s record in verse 15 shows how God used this to bring to the forefront the absolute rejection of the Jews to have the Son of God to rule over them.
But they 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. “Notice that whereas in previous verses John has referred to “the Jews” rejecting Jesus, in verse 15 he specifies that it was “the chief priests” who said, “we have no king but Caesar.”
What an astonishing statement coming from the descendants of Moses and Aaron! But God had used the pagan Pilate to push these rebels to this extreme point – again demonstrating where the true power lay. And interestingly enough it would be nearly 2,000 years before they would have self rule again (1948) – and that only because Gentile governments decided to let it take place (with the Balfour declaration.)
So that is his character.” Then in verse 16 we see his capitulation
Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away.
His specific words are not recorded, but it must have been a brief statement that did not specify any crime. And in this way God saw to it that His Son went to the cross, not only in innocence, but without even a false charge against Him. Pilate washed his hands in water after sentencing Jesus, but he could not remove the stain of guilt. His name is covered with shame until this day. History records that he was deposed in AD 36, and tradition says that he was banished from the empire and ultimately committed suicide. Pilate, like every man, faced the question in a very literal sense, “what will you do with Jesus?” and he failed the test. But if you think about it, you and I face that same question! First for salvation, and then for Lordship.
The purpose of these studies is to help people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Romans 3:23 says that “All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “And Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. If you will sincerely ask Him to forgive your sins and give you eternal life He will readily do so. Having trusted Him as your savior it is my hope that the lessons will help you grow in grace and bring others to know Him as well. If you would like more information you may contact me at “firstname.lastname@example.org