In the previous chapter we studied John's description of Jesus' final days. John focused on the Lord's betrayal by Judas and His trials before the Jewish leaders.
I explained to you that Jesus:
- First appeared before Annas, the former High Priest and current High Priest's father-in-law, in a preliminary hearing.
- He was then sent to appear before the official High Priest, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin in order to be formally charged and sentenced.
- Jesus went to Caiaphas twice, once late at night and once early in the morning.
- Next, the Jews brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, in order to persuade him to carry out the death sentence, something the Jews were forbidden by law to do.
- John does not mention this, but Luke (Luke 23:8-12) notes that Pilate, learning that Jesus is from Galilee, sends Him to stand before Herod (who ruled the northern section and was in Jerusalem at that moment) and let Herod deal with Him.
- Herod gets nowhere since Jesus remains silent.
- Pilate takes custody of Jesus and begins to question Him about His claims, and Jesus in turn begins to question Pilate concerning his faith. It is at this point that Pilate breaks off the conversation and returns to the Jews in order to inform them of his views concerning Jesus and their request to have Him executed.
Pilate has not been moved to believe in Jesus as the king of another world, but he also has not been persuaded to believe the charges brought against Him by the Jews either.
The trial before Pilate – 18:38-19:16
Vs. 38b-40 – And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, "I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?" So they cried out again, saying, "Not this Man, but Barabbas." Now Barabbas was a robber.
Pilate really believes that Jesus is innocent of the charges and not subject to death but he does not release Him either, a concession to the Jewish leaders who are pressing him for some type of action.
The other gospel writers provide us with information that at this point Pilate, learning of Jesus' origins in Galilee, decides to send Jesus to be questioned by Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee. Herod was one of the sons of Herod the Great (who was king when Jesus was born). When he died, Herod's kingdom was split up among his sons and Herod Jr. received the portion of land in the north around Galilee to rule over. The term "Tetrarch" is a Greek term that was used by the Romans to refer to one who ruled over a part of a province, as Herod did.
Jesus meets briefly with Herod but nothing is found to Pilate's advantage so Jesus is returned to the Roman governor for further action. It is at this point that Pilate attempts to set Jesus free within a Jewish law or tradition to minimize the negative impact that this might have. He should have simply let him go because he found Him innocent, but Pilate was afraid to do so.
The custom during the Passover season was to present two prisoners and let the people choose one to be freed. The insult to Jesus is that He is innocent and put against a man who is a convicted thief and murderer (Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7).
Pilate is confident at first that the people will choose Jesus, the popular teacher and healer over this convicted killer. But Pilate cannot help provoking the Jewish leaders by offering Jesus up as "their king." You can imagine the laughter of the Roman soldiers, the anger of the Jewish leaders and the resentment of the people when called on to choose between their "king" and a common criminal.
To his surprise the crowd, well salted with the Jewish leaders' followers, rejecting any defense of Jesus, cry out to save Barabbas. Frustrated in his attempt to free Jesus in this way Pilate will try another course of action.
Chapter 19, vs. 1-5 – Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and to give Him slaps in the face. Pilate came out again and said to them, "Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him." Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold, the Man!"
Seeing that the Jews are wanting blood, Pilate goes ahead and tortures the Lord. The mocking, the crown of thorns and the robe are an attempt to humiliate and discredit Jesus before the Jews.
After the ordeal with the soldiers, Jesus is led back out, naked (this is how prisoners were scourged) except for the crown of thorns and an old robe (probably one worn by one of the soldiers). Pilate once again pronounces Him innocent and introduces Him in a mocking manner as "…the man." The idea is that they should have no fear of this person who may claim to be a king. The Romans have cut Him down to size and demonstrated that He is only a man.
Pilate has three goals:
- He does not want to execute a man who is clearly innocent and thus cause a possible uproar with the people.
- He wants to placate the Jewish leaders who want him to "do something" about this troublemaker.
- Pilate cannot help insulting and belittling these people that he despises and, who he knows, despise him.
In his mind, torturing and humiliating Jesus and then releasing Him to the Jews will accomplish these three goals.
Vs. 6-11 – So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, "Crucify, crucify!" Pilate said to them, "Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."
Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are You
from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."
His attempt to get the crowd to agree with him in releasing Jesus has failed as they respond to the torture with cries of crucifixion. Pilate again repeats that he finds no basis to execute this person and tells them to do it if they want Him dead so badly. This, of course, is a provocation to the Jews because he and they know that they have no such authority.
But the Jews perceive a weakness in Pilate's reply. He says, "I find no guilt in Him," and the Jews reply that they have a law and by that law He should die. In other words, if you have no law or reason to convict Him, we do, use our law to do the deed.
At this point they reveal the true reason for their desire to have Him executed: His claim to divinity. This startles Pilate because as a pagan he had no belief or understanding of the Jewish Messiah and His claims, but his own background was filled with Roman gods, mythologies, etc. Could this man be one of these? He was skeptic, but Jesus' demeanor and reputation were unusual and this latest revelation by the Jews frightened him. Could he have inadvertently tortured one of the Roman gods that were said to mingle at times with men? If so, what would the gods do to him because of this?
Pilate returns to question Jesus and this time the questioning is more urgent and personal because Pilate himself may be involved. Pilate asks where Jesus is from, he wants more details about His identity but Jesus gives no reply. He has already told him who He is and Pilate has not believed, so further questions are not answered.
Frustrated, Pilate alludes to his power to free or execute Him, hoping that this threat or offer will move Jesus to explain further His identity. Jesus does not expand a person's knowledge of Himself without faith. First, you believe, then you know. Jesus responds by commenting on Pilate's perception of his own power. He tells him two things:
- Pilate does not have the authority over His life, someone else has given him this authority and power. We know that God is the one who permits and appoints secular leaders, good or bad (Romans 13).
- Even the wrongs he is doing now are secondary to the wrongs committed by the Jews who originally arrested and falsely tried and accused Him.
Jesus answers like a true king and passes judgment on the way these lesser officials have conducted themselves.
Vs. 12-16 – As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, "If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar."
Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your King!" So 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."
So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
The end game in Pilate's effort to release Jesus comes into view as the Jews zero in on his own vulnerability. Until this time, their focus has been on Jesus and their desire to have Him executed.
The Jewish leaders have outwitted him in providing all he needs to carry out the execution:
- They have provided a charge of sedition (claiming that He was a king).
- They have given him a legal framework to condemn Him since Pilate cannot do it based on Roman law. He can condemn Jesus using their interpretation of Jewish law.
- They also provide motivation by suggesting that releasing Jesus would be contrary to Caesar's (Pilate's ruler) wish.
- The Jews finish their assault on Pilate by declaring that in doing this thing he will win their greater loyalty to Rome.
And so against his conscience (3 times found no guilt), the law (innocent are released) and better judgment (fear), Pilate sends Jesus to His death thinking that in doing so he will appease the Jewish leaders, avoid civil turmoil and secure his own position in government. He was Caesar's governor but a riot and sustained complaints about his loyalty to Rome and competence could be a threat to his position.
Another cycle is complete as Jesus with His silence, His words and His demeanor proclaims His identity. This Roman official disbelieves and acts on this disbelief by sending Jesus to an execution that was illegal (not allowed to execute a person found innocent at trial).
The crucifixion – vs. 17-30
Vs. 17-22 – They took Jesus, therefore, 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 other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, "JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews'; but that He said, 'I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."
John does not give a lot of detail concerning the further torture and process of crucifixion, this having been done by the other gospel writers. He actually follows more on his theme of Jesus' identity in describing the on-going debate between the Jewish leaders and Pilate.
Pilate gets the last word by combining what the Jews claimed Jesus to be and what Jesus Himself said about His identity. His intent was to further insult the Jews, their intent was to both kill and discredit Jesus, but in the end what was written in languages for all the world to read was the truth. Here on this cross is: Jesus, the man from Nazareth; Jesus, the Son of God; Jesus the God/Man. Despite the protest of the Jewish leaders, Pilate manages to get the final say and in doing so proclaims the truth that both he and the Jews missed.
Vs. 23-27 – Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: "They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots." Therefore the soldiers did these things.
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
There were five pieces of clothing worn by Jewish men: a head covering (turban) to protect from the sun; a tunic which was worn close to the body; a pair of sandals for the feet; a girdle or sash which was worn around the waist to secure a fifth piece which was an outer robe; the loincloth was not valuable and of such nature as to be discarded. It was the custom that the soldiers who carried out executions divide the victim's personal effects between them.
John, along with the women, was an eye witness and says that four soldiers each took one piece of clothing for themselves and rather than tear up and ruin a good quality (seamless) robe, they threw lots for it. The significance of this seemingly unimportant detail is that it fulfilled a prophecy concerning the details of the Messiah's death made by David some 800 years before (Ps. 22:18). Again without a word or gesture, Jesus is proclaiming His identity to those before Him (soldiers and especially Jewish leaders and teachers) and they respond once again with disbelief.
Note that there were 3 Mary's at the scene:
- Mary, Jesus' mother.
- Mary, the sister of the Lord's mother and wife of an early disciple Clopas, who many believe to be the brother of Joseph, Jesus' earthly father (two sisters marrying two brothers).
- Mary from Magdala, a town in Galilee. Jesus cast spirits out of her and she was a faithful disciple.
Jesus arranges for the care of His widowed mother, as is His duty as the eldest son. He leaves her in the care of one who had a special love for Him, now this love will be there to care for His mother. At that moment only one Apostle and friend was near, even His earthly brothers and sisters, who would later believe, were gone. So to John went this special responsibility.
This is not hard for me to understand. When our children were young, even though we had family, our will dictated that in the event of our deaths, our children would be cared for by brothers and sisters in the church and not our unbelieving families.
Jesus does the same here in leaving the care of His mother in the hands of the one faithful person who was there at that moment.
Vs. 28-30 – After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
All things accomplished, meaning all the things that the Father through the Scriptures foretold that He would do, including this suffering and death on the cross.
The request for wine (even sour wine) enables His parched lips to utter His final words recorded here and in Luke before His death.
Note also that He controls even this portion of the proceedings in that He gave up His spirit, it did not simply leave Him. He had control over His moment of death because of 2 reasons:
- He had no sin and so death could not overpower Him, He decided when His spirit would leave.
- He completed all of the things set before Him by the Father and recorded in Scripture, and would not give up the spirit before all of these were accomplished.
With the sacrifice of His perfect life, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law, paid the moral debt for our sins and opened the door to forgiveness for all men based on His sacrifice.