We turn out attention again to the final moments in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John. We recall that this gospel is not merely recounting the details of Jesus’ life and death. The author makes his purpose known in John 20:31 that these were written so that those who read it would believe, with true saving faith, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We must consider this all the more as we notice all the details concerning the arrest and trial of Jesus that are omitted in this gospel. This is to cause us as readers to consider carefully the details that the author does include and how these details are to cause us to have faith in Jesus.
Pilate Attempts To Release Jesus (18:38-19:7)
Pilate’s discussion with Jesus has been unproductive in his own eyes. Pilate goes outside and declares his ruling to the Jews that he finds no guilt in him. The gospel wants to remind us that this is the Passover, with all of its meaning and symbolism. The Passover feast was a memorial for God’s deliverance. Pilate declares that the Jews have a custom for deliverance. Pilate will release one person to the Jews for the Passover. Notice the leading question Pilate asks: “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Pilate declared that Jesus is not guilty and is going to use this tradition to release Jesus to them. Pilate reveals his disdain and sarcasm by not calling Jesus by his name, but calling him “the King of the Jews.” This is the second time Pilate has called Jesus by this title (18:33). The Jews did not call Jesus this but they have told Pilate that Jesus is calling himself king. Pilate finds this a mockery and calls him the King of the Jews. Rather than receiving the innocent Jesus for release, the crowd cries for Barabbas to be released who truly was a criminal. The scriptures describe Barabbas as a notorious prisoner (Matthew 27:16), as one charged with insurrection and murder (Luke 23:19), and a murderer (Acts 3:14). This gospel adds that Barabbas is also a thief. The people choose the darkness rather than the light. They choose the murderer rather than the savior. How often this is the choice we make! We choose the darkness over the light. We choose sinfulness rather than the savior.
This leads to the mockery of Jesus. The first sentence of chapter 19 is recorded with shocking simplicity. “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.” Isaiah prophesied about the suffering that would come from his flogging. “His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being” (Isaiah 52:14 HCSB). We are not told about the severity of the flogging that Jesus endured. We can only consider that Jesus was unable to carry his own cross, as most criminals did. We can further consider that Jesus dies after only six hours on the cross, an unusually short amount of time for a crucified victim. Yet the physical suffering of Jesus is not the point of attention for the gospels, and certainly not for John’s gospel. The mockery continues as a crown of thorns is twisted together, put on Jesus’ head, and a purple robe is placed on him. With Jesus looking like a bloody mockery of a king, the soldiers mocked him with the words, “Hail, the King of the Jews!” and then punched Jesus.
Pilate then puts Jesus on display before the crowd. Again Pilate declares that there was no guilt found in him. But then he brings out Jesus, bloodied from the flogging, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. “Behold the man!” as Jesus is brought before the people. Rather than this invoking sympathy, the hatred of Jesus only increases. The chief priests and officers stir up the crowd and they began to chant, “Crucify him, crucify him.” The response is not pity or compassion. Crucifixion is still demanded. Because Pilate has found Jesus innocent of the charges leveled against him, Pilate tells the Jewish leaders to crucify him. Please notice the emphasis that John wants us to see in this section. In John 18:38 Pilate said, “I find no guilt in him.” In John 19:4 Pilate said, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” Now in John 19:6 Pilate again announces, “I find no guilt in him.” John has emphasized in this gospel that all things are under Jesus control and nothing is happening outside of his knowledge. Now John wants us to consider that there is nothing that Jesus said or did that is worthy of this judgment. Further, there is only one person who ever lived in whom anyone could ever say, “I find no guilt in him.” There is guilt in every person. Every person has sinned. Every person is guilty of something. But not Jesus. The Jewish leaders could not come up with a charge against Jesus. This is why when Pilate asked what the charge was, the best the Jewish leaders could muster was, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him to you” (John 18:30). Now Pilate’s examination comes up with the same verdict. There is no guilt in this person. He is perfect for the Passover to be the Lamb of God offered for our sins.
The Jewish leaders refuse to let Pilate release Jesus. They must have the Romans kill Jesus. But they do not have anything that would make the Romans care about what Jesus is doing among the Jews. So they now say something to cause Pilate to reconsider. The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7 ESV). Pilate’s job as governor over the region was to maintain control while upholding the local laws as long as those laws did not conflict with Roman priorities. Now Pilate is being forced into an action that he does not want to make. The Jewish leaders are telling Pilate that he is not doing his job. This Jesus has broken their laws and Pilate is responsible as governor to uphold their laws. He must do something. Pilate cares about this because he has not handled the Jewish people favorably in the eyes of the Roman emperor. Rather than keeping the peace and upholding Jewish laws, Pilate acted antagonistically, even taking opportunities to upset them and slaughter them. More negative reports concerning his rule over Judea taken to Rome will go badly for Pilate’s future. This compels Pilate to question Jesus further.
The Second Questioning of Jesus (19:8-12)
The last time Pilate and Jesus spoke to each other, they were having a discussion about the kingship of Jesus and Jesus testifies to the truth. Pilate returns to Jesus and begins to question him further. But this time Jesus will not respond. Pilate is amazed by this. Pilate declares that he has the power to release Jesus or crucify Jesus. To this Jesus says that Pilate only possesses this authority because it had been given to him by God. We are seeing our Lord Jesus submitting to the governing authorities (cf. Romans 13:1) that he had instituted himself. This gospel is noting that God is in control over these events. Everything is happening according to the plan of God. The greater sin rests of the hands of the Jewish leaders who are refusing to receive the Christ sent from God. Every time Pilate speaks with Jesus it causes Pilate to continue to try to have Jesus released. Verse 12 shows Pilate still trying to release Jesus. We are not told the details of how Pilate tried to accomplish this. But it did not matter what Pilate tried to do to have Jesus set free, the Jewish people would not accept.
The Jewish people threaten Pilate again. “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). They tell Pilate that he is not serving the interests of Caesar. This charge is how the Jewish leaders had caused trouble for Pilate with the emperor before and they are threatening to do it again. Pilate must crucify Jesus or be reported to Rome that he is yet again not governing the region properly.
The Verdict (19:13-16)
With these words, Pilate feels that he is compelled to have Jesus crucified, according to the wishes of the Jewish nation. Pilate brings Jesus out and he takes his seat on judgment seat. Before declaring the verdict, John wants to bring some symbolism into this gospel account. It was the day of preparation for the Passover. This was the day when the lambs would be slaughtered so that the people could commemorate the Passover on the next day. John is giving us the image vividly: it is time for the Passover lamb to be slaughtered.
Pilate takes his place on the judgment seat before the crowd. He declares to them, “Behold your king.” Before Pilate said, “Behold the man,” trying to invoke sympathy for this one who looked pathetic. He had been beaten and flogged. He had a crown of thorns on his head and purple robe on his back to make him look like a mockery. This flogged and rejected man is brought out to the crowd with the declaration this time, “Behold your king.” How ironic that Pilate said no truer words that day. Look at your king. This is the one who has come to save. See the king. See the Son of God.
Yet the people do not see their king. They cry out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate has not stopped trying to release Jesus. Pilate said, “Shall I crucify your king?” Do you really want me to put to death your king? Listen to the answer of the chief priests. “We have no king but Caesar.” What shocking words! The Jewish leaders hated the Roman occupation of their land. They did not want to serve under the Roman emperor. When the time came to receive the real king, they reject the true king and declare that they have no other king but Caesar. With these words, the verdict is put in and Jesus is led away for crucifixion.
Pilate simply does not know what to do with Jesus. What will you do with Jesus? Please take a long look at your king in this account. Jesus is rejected, flogged, mocked, and abused. Behold your king! What is your verdict? What is your judgment? Will we say that he is not our king? Do we show by our lives that he is not ruling over us? Who is the king in your life? Our hearts’ desire is to rule ourselves. We want our desires to be king. We want charge over our own lives. We do not want to give control to another. But, my friends, Jesus is the king. The resurrection proved Jesus to be our King, our Lord, and our God. Will you have Jesus as your King? To do so we must submit our lives to his rule. We must submit our desires and our actions to his control, not our own. We are giving our lives into his power and rule. Yield to the king and he will save you for our sins. Please consider who your king is. Honestly determine today if you have a king but it is not the Lord who died for you. Behold your King. Behold your God.