Last week we saw Pilate pronounce three times that he found no guilt in Jesus and tried to get Jesus released. First he tried to get the crowd to choose Barabbas. Then he tried the sympathy approach by having Jesus beaten up a bit and mocked by the Roman soldiers.
In his discussion with Jesus, it seems that Jesus was actually witnessing to Pilate. This was not an attempt on Jesus’ part to get off the hook. He could have called the 10,000 angels to deliver Him or simply spoken the Word and walked out. It was for Pilate's sake that Jesus had borne witness of the truth.
Pilate, who ordinarily acted in the most ruthless of matter was completely taken back by the presence of Jesus. But Pilate could not come up with the courage to stand up to the accusations of the Jews and released Jesus outright.
Exposition of the Text
v. 8. The hostile reaction of the Jews surprised Pilate. But what made Pilate really anxious is thet the Jewish hostility to Jesus was based on Jesus' claim to be the Son of God. The Romans had petty kings doing their bidding. King Herod had been one of these puppets. Pilate would not have seen the title "King of the Jews" to have been a threat to Roman authority if the type of kingdom was the one described by Jesus Himself, as not being of this world. As long as Jesus did not advocate the overthrow of Rome, and the Jews did not create a riot which resulted in bloodshed, Pilate did not feel threatened.
But now the claim of "Son of God" was entirely a different matter. Pilate, in order to be appointed Governor of Judaea had to make an oath of allegiance to Caesar. When Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate, there were "eyewitnesses" who claimed that they say Julius Caesar rise into heaven as a god. This would make his adopted son Augustus, the "son of god" in the view of the Romans. When Augustus died, "witnesses" claimed that they saw him ascend into heaven as a god. This would make Augustus' adopted son, Tiberius, "the son of god". When He heard the claim made by the Jews that Jesus had said that He was the "Son of God" it would have been seen by Pilate as a claim that Jesus was not just the king of a puppet regime of Rome but a claim to be the Emperor of Rome in direct opposition to Tiberius. This was dangerous.
v. 9. Pilate had to have an answer from Jesus on this. He asks Jesus almost pleadingly, "Where are you from?" Pilate had completely lost control of the situation. Pilate was now being forced to make a decision about Jesus which was far deeper than whether to crucify Him or not. To decide for Caesar and against Jesus was an extreme threat to Pilate's soul. But to decide for Jesus would jeopardize not only Pilate's position as governor, bu Pilate's own life as well. The Jewish people had to decide between two Messiah figures, Jesus and Barabbas. Now Pilate was having to decide "Which Son of God do I choose?"
v. 10. Jesus made no answer to Pilate’s plea. He felt he had the power to "save Jesus" and was doing everything in his power to do so. But Jesus was not being helpful to him at all. Pilate is emphatic when he says "Don't You answer me anything at all?" But Pilate is making a mistake that all too many people have made over the centuries. They have tried to "save Jesus". We are always trying to save His reputation and to defend Him and the Christian faith. Might I suggest here that it is Pilate, not Jesus, who needs to be saved. Jesus needs to be proclaimed and acclaimed, not defended. Jesus needs no apology.
Pilate finally asks Jesus in total frustration to answer. The gist of what Pilate says is: "Don't you know who I am? I am the Governor of Judaea, appointed under the authority to the divine Emperor Tiberius? As his representative here, I have all of the authority of the Emperor to either release you or crucify you?
v. 11. Jesus answer was absolutely brazen. This was not the answer of a wimp pleading for his life. In the power dynamics of this conversation, it is absolutely clear that Jesus is in control. There is a interesting comparison to this confrontation and the confrontation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in Chapter 4 of the gospel. Here an exhausted Jesus who seemed to be completely at the mercy of a Samaritan woman for life saving water turns the table on the Samaritan woman when he asks the woman, "Go call your husband." And here Jesus, who seems to be helpless and at the mercy of Pilate for a life saving pardon actually turns the table on Pilate. His answer to Pilate is essentially: "You've got is all wrong, Pontius. Your authority does not come from Tiberius. It comes from God. You are the one who is helpless here, not me. Like the woman at the well was truly the one who needed the living water, it is you Pontius, who needs the pardon.
Jesus goes on to say that Pilate's lack of understanding and authority made him less culpable than the Jewish leaders who betrayed Him. They had God's Word and knew it.
v. 12. Does Pilate become the next "secret disciple" in the line of Nicodemus. Nicodemus had made a feeble attempt to defend Jesus before the Sanhedrin in John 7:51? And as Nicodemus was cowed into silence, Pilate too would be cowed into silence. One wonders whether Pilate like Nicodemus later gained boldness and became a confessor of Christ-- but not today.
Pilate had been maneuvering to try to have Jesus released. But the Jews seemed to be expert in the art of maneuvering themselves. They must have sensed Pilate's reaction to the "Son of God" claim. And they were ready. What they didn't realize is that they were about to maneuver themselves into a fatal corner which would lead to God's using Rome to destroy the nation of Israel. The trap begins with the Jews pointing out to Pilate that anyone who accepted any king but Caesar could not be a friend of Caesar. Since when were the Jews the friend of Caesar?
In the days of Samuel the prophet, the Jewish people had asked for a king (I Sam 8:5). Samuel resisted the idea, but the Lord told Samuel to go ahead and make for them a king. They were not rejecting Samuel in doing this. God said they were rejecting God Himself and His rule over them (I Sam 8:7). Now in a sense, they were asking this same question again, and rejecting the rule of God over them. And instead of the prophet Samuel making protest, it was the Roman governor Pilate, a Gentile! And they were not asking for a "King of the Jews" but for a pagan Emperor to rule over them instead of God.
v. 13. Now Pilate as the apostle of Caesar sits in the judgement hall to act the part of the king they demanded, to judge them. There was an expectation of a verdict. I would expect that the Jews would have momentarily expected that they would hear the verdict that they wanted and probably became quiet expecting the sentence of death to be passed.
v. 14. John reminds us that this is the day that the Passover lambs would be slaughtered. In particular, this was the day the Passover Lamb was to be slaughtered. John is telling us that yes, the verdict was "Death to the Lamb." But the Jews were in for a rude surprise.
Instead of the expected guilty verdict, Pilate tells them "Behold your King!" In the place of Samuel, he was telling them, "This is the King God has chosen to rule over you. For one last time, the Jewish people had one last chance to get it right, to accept Jesus as their King. To reject Jesus now was to reject God forever.
v. 15. The Jews were absolutely indignant. "Away with Him!" "Crucify Him!" Pilate answered them "Should I crucify your King?" Pilate once more, perhaps speaking better than he knew, proclaims Jesus as the true King of Israel. But the Jewish people from their unbelief and rejection fall into the trap of their own making. "We have no king but Caesar!"
What a statement is made here! The Israelites in I Samuel 8 had wanted a king to judge them, just like the other nations. Now they had one, a Gentile king. They did not want to identify themselves as God's specially chosen people. They wanted to be like everyone else, just like the other Romans. By doing so, they committed the ultimate act of sacrilege, apostasy, and idolatry by accepting Caesar as Lord rather than God. They were no longer God's chosen people. God gave individual Jews 40 years to repent before the nation was destroyed, but the nation died this very hour.
v. 16. Pilate had lost the fight. He could not find the courage to stand for the truth. He gave Jesus over to the will of the people to be crucified. But God would have the final victory here as well.
We see here the terrible effect unbelief has on human beings. And this effect is presenting its bitter fruit today. We are warned in the last day there would be a great apostasy from the truth. No one wants to hear sound doctrine. The people of God are laughed at. Everyone wants to be like the world. But by rejecting God, we fall into a trap of our own making. We become as irrational brutes, easily swayed and carried captive by anger and violence. And it is certain if the Jewish people did not escape the wrath of God, neither shall the Christian, self-called, who rejects the rule of God. God has chosen His King and will choose no other. Do you serve Him as Lord, or are you one who wants rid of Him? The choice is yours.