My column this week is from John 18, “Jesus Appears Before Pilate.”
Verse 28 – Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
The Jews led Jesus to the palace of the Roman governor. John says little about the Jewish phase of Jesus’ trial but much about the Roman trial (see Mark 14:53—15:15). It is possible that John was in the Praetorium, the governor’s official residence, for this trial. In the early morning the chief priests evidently held a second session of the Sanhedrin after daybreak to give some appearance of legality to what they did (see Mark 15:1). This occasion would have been immediately after that, perhaps between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Ceremonial uncleanness is a result of entering a Gentile residence. To eat the Passover does not mean that the time of the Passover meal had not yet come, for this would contradict the Synoptic Gospels, which have Jesus eating the Passover meal the night before. The term “Passover” was used to refer to the whole festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, which lasted seven days and included a number of meals.
Verses 29, 30 – So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If He were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed Him over to you.”
Pilate, the roman governor of Judea from A.D. 28 to 36, whose official residence was in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. In 1961 archaeologists working at Caesarea unearthed a stone contemporary with Pilate and inscribed with his name.
When he came to Jerusalem, he stayed in the magnificent palace built by Herod the Great, located west and a little south of the temple area. Mark uses the word “Praetorium” to indicate this palace, and it was here that the Roman trial of Jesus took place.
Verse 31 – Pilate said, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected.
Pilate told the Jews to take Jesus themselves and judge Him by their own law. In other words, no Roman charge, no Roman trial.
No right to execute anyone. They were looking for an execution, not a fair trial. The restriction was important, for otherwise Rome’s supporters could be quietly removed by local legal executions. Sometimes the Romans seem to have condoned local executions (Stephen, in Acts 7), but normally they retained the right to inflict the death penalty.
Verse 32 – This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death He was going to die would be fulfilled.
Jesus knew the kind of death He was going to die. John 12:32-33 and “Must” in 12:34. Jewish execution was by stoning, but Jesus’ death was to be by crucifixion, whereby He would bear the curse (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The Romans, not the Jews, had to put Jesus to death. God was overruling in the whole process.
Verse 33 – Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?”
Pilate’s first words to Jesus, which are identical in all four Gospels, was, “Are You king of the Jews?” One glance was enough to show him that a dangerous rebel existed only in the imaginations of Jesus’ enemies.
Verses 34, 35 – “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about Me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was Your people and Your chief priests who handed You over to me. What is it You have done?”
Jesus said to Pilate, “Is that your own idea?” If so, Pilate’s question had meant, “ Are You a rebel?” If the question had originated with the Jews, it meant, “Are You the Messianic King?”
Verse 36 – Jesus said, “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.”
Jesus agrees that He has a kingdom, but asserts that it is not the kind of kingdom that has soldiers to fight for it. It was not built, nor is it maintained, by military might.
Verse 37 – “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. 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.”
Jesus came to testify to the truth, three of the Gospels most important truths (see John 1:7; 1:14; 14:6).
Verse 38 – “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against Him.”
“What is the truth?” Pilate asked. He may have been jesting and meant, “What does the truth matter?” Or he may have been serious, and meant, “It is not easy to find truth. What is it?” Either way, it was clear to him that Jesus was no rebel. There was no basis for a charge against Him. Teaching the truth was not a criminal offense.
Verse 39 – “But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
It was customary for prisoners to be released on special occasions in other places. John keeps his emphasis on the note of royalty. Pilate may have hoped that the use of the title would influence the people toward the way he wanted them to decide.
Verse 40 – They shouted back, “No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Barabbas was a rebel and a murderer (see Luke 23:19). The name is Aramaic and means “son of Abba,” “son of the father”; in place of Barabbas, the Son of the Holy Father died.
My prayer: Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have tried to lead a blameless life; I have trusted in You Lord without wavering. Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for Your love is ever before me, and I try to walk continually in Your truth, Lord. I love You Lord. Amen.
Scripture and commentary from “The NIV Study Bible,” John 18:28-40.
Next week my column will be from John 19:1-16, “Jesus Sentenced to be Crucified.”
You can reach Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org.