The Gospel Of John — Part 20
Aug 1, 2010 1159
The Gospel Of John — Part 20
Jesus and Pilate
In AD26 Tiberius Caesar appointed Pontius Pilate as Praefectus civiatium (governor) of Samaria, Judea, and old Idumea. Pilate was to be responsible for the collection of taxes for Rome; the general administration of the province, the supervision of all large scale building projects, judicial matters and the maintenance of law and order—for which he had three thousand soldiers.
At the time of the Jewish Passover in AD30 Pilate faced the greatest test of his ten year administration. While his official residence and base of operation was in the coastal city of Caesarea Maritima, on this occasion he had come to Jerusalem to ensure that law and order prevailed during the festival. There were radical Jews intent on expelling their Roman overlords from Israel, and he wanted to be on the scene to nip such aspirations in the bud should they manifest themselves. One such terrorist, Barabbas, was already in custody awaiting execution (John 18:40b). With such a large gathering of Jews for this festival it was important that no aspiring ‘messiah’ got the opportunity to arouse the masses to revolt against Rome.
Early on Friday morning Pilate was roused from sleep by his aide who advised him that a delegation of Jews had come to see him and were waiting outside the palace. They brought with them a prisoner whom they had handed over to the praetorian guard.
The waiting delegation refused to come into Pilate’s palace to speak with him, because they believed they would be defiled by entering the residence of a non-Jew and such defilement would exclude them from taking part in the Passover (John 18:28). So Pilate dressed and went out to speak with them.
‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’ Pilate asked. The spokesman for the delegation, trying to avoid an official inquiry into their questionable accusations against Jesus, replied elusively: ‘If he were not a criminal we would not have handed him over to you’. Pilate, knowing that ‘it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him’ (Matt. 27:18), retorted, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law’ (John 18:31).
This put the Jews on the spot because they did not have the authority to execute anyone—for something as serious as an execution, they would have to have a watertight case. They had decided that if it came to a show-down they would play on Pilate’s fears. ‘He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king,’ they said (Luke 23:2).
Pilate went back inside the palace and ordered the guards to bring Jesus to him. They opened Jesus’ cell and took him to the procurator.
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place’ (John 18:36).
Pilate found Jesus’ answer disconcerting. While Jesus admitted to being a king, he did not claim any territory as his own, nor were his followers fighting men. This was not the way of revolutionaries.
Pilate, unable to fathom Jesus’ explanation, focused on his admission: ‘You are a king then!’ he exclaimed.
‘Yes, I am a king,’ Jesus answered. ‘In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world—to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’
Pilate was caught between the lies of the Sanhedrin and the truth of Jesus—the truth that would save him if he really wanted it. Instead, he brushed aside Jesus’ words with a statement that indicated he did not believe in absolute truth. ‘What is truth?’ he snorted as he spun on his heels and went out to the Jews. ‘I find no basis for a charge against him,’ he told them.
It was at this point that Pilate miscalculated the temper of the crowd. Earlier that week they had been hailing Jesus as the Messiah, but he did nothing to free them from the Romans. Nothing! And now this so-called ‘Messiah’ appeared to be impotent in the hands of their enemy—Rome.
It was a custom of the Romans to release a prisoner at a high festival, so when Pilate foolishly gave the crowd a choice between Barabbas, the insurrectionist and resistance fighter, and Jesus, the crowd roared out for their champion of a free Israel, Barabbas (John 18:40a). It wasn’t the Prince of Peace they wanted, but the man of war. And they got what they wanted.
Barabbas is an Aramaic word meaning ‘son of the father.’ The Jews chose the earthly son of an earthly father in preference to the heavenly Son of the heavenly Father. In choosing the earthly over the heavenly, they set themselves up to receive the rewards of the earthly rather than the heavenly.
We think they’re fools for making such a choice, but we too fall into the same temptation. How many times do we choose earthly delights over the heavenly? How many times do we invest our money for earthly treasure rather than the heavenly? And aren’t we also guilty of committing ourselves to upholding earthly traditions rather than heavenly truth?
Pilate, still looking for a way to release Jesus, decided to have him flogged, hoping that such a terrible punishment would appease the baying crowd. Scourging, a prerequisite for crucifixion, was so awful than many victims did not survive it. The sight of a brutalised innocent man should be enough to win their sympathy and obtain their satisfaction.
After the scourging Pilate paraded Jesus with his back bloodied and shredded, before the Jews and declared, ‘Behold the man! I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him’.
As soon as the chief priests and officials saw Jesus they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ They knew they had Pilate on the back foot. If he believed that Jesus was innocent, why did he have him scourged? He hadn’t been strong enough to draw a line at ‘No guilt, therefore no punishment’, so now they would press him to move that line even further backward to include capital punishment.
The Jews insisted that Jesus had to die because ‘he claimed to be the Son of God’. This news scared Pilate witless, because in pagan mythology some of the gods, such as Hercules, often appeared among people working miracles. If Jesus really was a divine being Pilate did not want to be responsible for mistreating him. The consequences wouldn’t bear thinking about.
Pilate went back inside the palace to question Jesus further. ‘Where do you come from’, he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.
Insulted by Jesus’ silence Pilate asked angrily, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realise that I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’
Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of the greater sin’ (John 19:7-11).
The Jews were guilty, not only of envy and injustice, but also of deliberate blindness. The Lord came to his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11). There was nothing further that God could do for the Jews; they were in the process of rejecting his greatest revelation of himself.
‘From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’”
Pilate knew that if he released Jesus the Jews would send a delegation to Rome, and with his past history, he would in all probability get the sack. So he chose to crucify Christ to save himself.
Actor Mel Gibson, once said, ‘You better decide whether you’re hanging on the cross or banging in the nails.’ Pilate wasn’t about to crucify himself so he elected to crucify Christ instead.
Each of us finds him/herself in Pilate’s shoes at one time or another—the place where we have to choose between Jesus and self. We can crucify guilty self in order to save innocent Jesus, or crucify innocent Jesus in order to save guilty self. The choice is ours and the choice can determine our destiny.
Pilate went to the judge’s seat—the place where he would pronounce judgement on Jesus. Just as he sat down, his aide came in with a message from his wife, Claudia Procula. She said, ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him’ (Matt. 27:19).
People in biblical times laid great store by their dreams, and it was through Claudia’s dream that God made his final appeal to Pilate. But the cries of the crowd, goaded on by the chief priests and the elders, overrode Pilate’s legitimate concerns for Jesus. ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ they shouted, louder and louder (Matt. 27:24).
Pilate, cowered by the uproar that was starting—the very thing he was anxious to prevent—took some water and washed his hands. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood!’ he shouted. ‘It’s your responsibility!’ By this means he sought to assuage his guilty conscience. But it takes more than water to wash away sin. That can only be accomplished by the blood of Jesus.
All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’ And it came to pass as they requested. In AD 70 the Roman ‘beast’ turned on the Jewish ‘prostitute’ and ate her flesh and burned her with fire (Rev. 17:16).
Finally Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified. Commenting upon Pilate’s decision, the 1st century Roman historian, Comelius Tacitus, wrote:
‘Christus … suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.’