As Jesus was led into Pilates judgement hall, most of his disciples and followers had fled, Peter had denied him three times, and John was huddling in the shadows with Pharisees who were friends of his family. Christ was on trial and there was no one to stand up for him.
Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?"
Pilate enters the judgement hall and tries to understand why Jesus is being charged. Pilate was a political figure. He was in Jerusalem to keep peace during the Passover. He did not need an uproar. Judea was famous for turmoil and many previous rulers of this province had been removed from their position because they couldnt handle the rebellious Jews. So he questions Jesus trying to find a way to calm this upheaval.
McGee comments, "Pilate was dumbfounded. He couldnt believe there was someone claiming to be the king of the Jews and that they would have the audacity to bring such a charge. Pilate is out on a limb and wants to get off. He would like to help Jesus."
Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"
Pilate asks the question philosophers have been asking for centuries, "what is truth?" It is an admission that his own religion has given him no answers, and here stands before him someone who claims to have answers. But he seems to be thinking, how can anyone really know the truth?
I believe it is at this point that he begins seeing Christ in a new light. He no longer sees him as a trouble maker who is causing Pilate political unrest, but he sees Jesus as someone who is being persecuted unfairly.
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, "I find no crime in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?"
Pilate tries a different tactic. MacDonald writes, "Pilate seized upon this custom in an effort to please the Jews and at the same time release Jesus." So even though all his followers have forsaken him, there is one man who will stand up for Christ. It is the Roman ruler, the hated gentile, a heathen. And yet here he is trying to maneuver the release of Christ and at the same time quell the disturbance of the Jewish rulers.
They cried out again, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a robber.
There is no doubt in my mind that Pilate did not anticipate this response. But he is undaunted. He will try another idea.
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe;
they came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, "See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the man!"
Christ was beaten and bruised and probably looked very pathetic. In the system of Roman justice Pilate should have either released Christ or had him crucified, but he had him beaten instead. This indicates it was his intention to pacify the religious leaders by this action. The Roman scourging was an awful punishment. Once again we find Pilate standing up for Christ. He had nothing to gain by doing this, but here he was defending Jesus against the whole assembly of the Jews. He figured the Jewish leaders would accept the scourging as punishment enough, but he was wrong.
When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God." When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid.
The Pharisees thought that giving Pilate the real reason would convince him that Jesus must die. But it had the opposite effect on Pilate. He had been sent a message by his wife recorded in Matthew 27:19, "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." Now, he hears that the accusation is that Christ claimed to be the son of God. He is filled with fear.
He entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin." Upon this Pilate sought to release him.
Notice in verse 9 Pilate asks, "where are you from?" It seems he is beginning to understand that there is something beyond his understanding going on here. In the beginning of verse 12 it says "Pilate sought to release him." When everyone else had left Jesus, it was the mean, cruel, heathen ruler that stood up for him. It was the least likely candidate to be his defender. And yet here we see Pilate defending someone who was not a Roman citizen, not of his nationality. He didnt agree with the Jewish faith, and he probably wasnt sure that Christ was anything more than an innocent man. But he could sense something different. He could feel that he was in the presence of someone special.
But the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are not Caesars friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar." When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!"
The Jewish leaders were crafty. They used the one argument that Pilate had to listen to loyalty to Caesar. We know the Jews felt no loyalty to Caesar at all. This was all a big sham to get their way. But everything else they tried had been thwarted by Pilates determination. Now they played their trump card. As MacDonald explains, "Pilate could not afford to have the Jews accuse him of disloyalty to Caesar...." The Jews could cause trouble for Pilate if they claimed him disloyal to Rome. Palace intrigues were a common occurrence. Roman leaders had to always be watching their back side for betrayal. Nothing would be worse than for Caesar to doubt Pilates loyalty.
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."
Pilate tries one last ditch attempt to save Jesus, but the Pharisees knew exactly what to say in response. They had worked around Roman rule for many years now. They understood how the imperial court worked. They placed Pilate in an impossible situation.
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
It was common practice to place a title on the cross describing the crime for which the prisoner was crucified. In one final act of defiance, Pilate made a declaration, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Was it a declaration of faith? Probably not. But it was a declaration of the only man in the whole kingdom who was willing to stand up for Christ in his darkest hour.
Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, "Do not write, The King of the Jews, but, This man said, I am King of the Jews. " Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."
The Jews were not happy with this title. It was written in all three languages. It was written in Hebrew so the local Jews could read it. It was written in Greek the language of the former Greek Empire and the common language of any visitors to Jerusalem. And it was written in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. No one could miss the message. When the priest came to Pilate to request him change the sign, he once again stood up for Christ with his word, "What I have written I have written."
What happened to Pilate after this we are not sure of. The Encarta Encyclopedia tells us, "Pilate was recalled to Rome in 36 A. D. According to theologian and church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, Pilate later committed suicide. However, other traditions record that Pilate was secretly a Christian and that he was condemned to death by the Roman Senate. He is revered as a martyr by the Coptic church, which celebrates his feast day on June 25."
When Pilate tried Christ, he was not a Christian. He was not even a believer. He was a mean and cruel Roman governor. And yet we find him standing up for Christ when no one else would. We are believers. We have accepted Christ into our heart. We owe everything to his sacrifice for us on the cross. Are we willing to stand up for him? Are we willing to be firm and let others know about Christs love for them? During this Easter season as we remember all that Christ has done for us, let us be willing to take our stand for Christ and let others know about the real meaning of Easter. He has done so much for us. Its the least we can do for him.
This study on John 18:33-19:22 © 1998 by
David Humpal, All Rights Reserved
Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, vol. 4, pg. 488 © 1983, Thomas Nelson Publishers
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 378 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Matthew 27:19 from the New International Version © 1984, Zondervan Bible Publishers
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 379 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Encarta 97 Encyclopedia, article on Pontius Pilate © 1996 Microsoft Corporation