“Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.” John 18:28-40
My intention today is take us through the narrative of Jesus before Pilate. The text before us is only about half of the story which is completed with the first 17 verses of Chapter 19. The Church has always taught as a matter of historical fact that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried and that he rose from the dead – body and all – under Pontus Pilate.
Pilate’s residence was in Caesarea, but during feasts he was in Jerusalem because he was expected to oversee the maintenance of order when the population of the city swelled with pilgrims. He stayed at Herod’s palace and that is where they brought Jesus. Pilate was reluctant to hear the case in the first place and note that the Jews did not enter into Pilate’s domain because they would have been disqualified from celebrating the Passover by entering the home of a Gentile. So already put out by their refusal to come to him, he went out to them and demanded to know what accusations were brought against the prisoner. They answered him by saying they would not have gone to the trouble of bringing him to Pilate had he not been an “evil-doer.” To which he replied the Rulers of Israel, “deal with him according to your own law.” He thus acknowledged or at least granted them the power to proceed with capital punishment. But according to their law Jesus would have to be stoned to death and they for whatever reasons did not want to do that; they wanted him crucified, publicly, guilty of sedition, not blasphemy and so they handed it back to Pilate. “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death,” they said, but that is not true. What is true is that they did not want to stone him to death — it is a matter of how he was to be put to death.
John’s Gospel makes a point of their unwillingness to stone him because it was for the purpose they had not intended:
“That the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should die.”
What is vital is that the world see that Jesus dies in the exact manner in which Jesus said it would — that he would be lifted up in crucifixion, that he would shed out his precious blood for the life of the world and thus, as he put it, he would draw all men to himself. Once the matter of who had jurisdiction over Jesus was settled — Caesar held jurisdiction over the King of Kings — Pilate, according to Roman law, conducted his own interrogation:
“Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
Pilate takes the matter into his own hands and proceeds on the assumption that he has to deal with Jesus as subversive who meant to destroy public and civil order. “Are you the King of the Jew?” Pilate asked and Jesus answers, “Are you asking this of your own interest or were you told this by other?”
“Do I look like a Jew to you?” by which Pilate meant, “No, there is nothing in you that would make me think you are King of the Jews, so of course I received this from others, your own countrymen, have brought this accusation against you.”
Then Jesus deals with the matter of politics and kingdoms:
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
Do not think that Jesus is saying that Caesar has his kingdom and Jesus had his kingdom and the two are governed by their own valid orders — he is not saying that the world and the kingdoms of this world are not within the sphere of his authority, but rather that his Kingdom and his authority is not a matter of human achievement. Jesus jurisdiction and his authority is not of human origin but its scope includes every single thing in the whole world. And that includes Pilate’s own authority over life and death. And that includes the fact that no military forces operate on Jesus behalf — he makes a point of this two times: “if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…” No soldiers of Christ’s Kingdom were present to keep Jesus from falling into the hands of Caesar.
Pilate then draws his conclusion: “Then you are a King.”
Jesus responded to Pilate:
“Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?”
Jesus declared that he came into this world indeed as a King, but as the King of Truth who manifest his power not by force but by his witness to the truth. All this is beyond Pilate whose horizon is circumscribed by Caesar & Rome & the will to power. He manages only a feeble cliche: “What is truth?”
Pilate then went back to the crowd and declared that he found no fault in the man and offered up the custom of releasing a prisoner. He offers to show clemency to the King of the Jews to which the Rulers of Israel reply by calling for the release of Barabbas, a robber.
Pilate wasted no time then taking Jesus and having him scourged. The Romans soldiers plated a crown of thorns and put it upon Jesus head, they draped him in purple and mocked him. And when they had finished, Pilate again went out to the Jews and declared that he found no fault in the man. Then he had Jesus brought back before the Jews, scourged, robed in purple and wearing a crown of thorns. “Behold the man,” declared Pilate.
That only incited the rulers of Israel to cry out for his crucifixion. Again Pilate said, “But I can find no fault in the man!” Then the Jews replied:
“We have a law, and by this law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”
Why that jolted Pilate I am not sure. But once again he brought Jesus back into the palace. “Where have you come from,” he asked Jesus? Jesus did not respond. “Do you not understand that I have the power of life and death over you,” Pilate said? “You only have the power that my Father has given you and nothing more,” Jesus responded.
Pilate went out to the Jews agains and tried to have Jesus released but the Rulers of Israel cried out again, but this time with a threat:
“If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar’s friend: everyone that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar,” they declared.
It was about day break and Pilate brought Jesus out again, scourged, bleeding, covered in purple and wearing a thorny crown: “Behold your King!” He could not have been more provocative and he heaps his scorn upon the Rulers of Israel by declaring: “Shall I crucify your King?”
To which they replied: “We have no king but Caesar!” And with that formal, public apostasy the Rulers of Israel handed over their Messiah to the Romans just as Jesus said they would. In a theological sense Pilate, unaware of what he was doing, was offering Israel an opportunity to do the right thing and own Jesus as their Messiah. He held out to that generation two paths; one path would lead to life and the other would lead to death. They chose death. The rejection of Jesus by the Rulers of Israel is their formal denial of the Sovereignty of God. By proceeding with the execution of the Messiah in defense of the majesty of Caesar, the mystery of iniquity is consummated and the blasphemy of Israel’s ruling class. Then Pilate turned Jesus over to his executioners to crucify him.