You are allies with the rulers of this world, or you are allies with the king who was exalted by humiliation.
Now, this section has so much to offer, and the big idea here is much bigger than this quote. The big idea here is much bigger than this blasphemous confession by the Jews.
However, I chose this as my sermon title for two reasons:
It highlights the unison of Jew and Gentile against YHWH’s anointed. It is the consummate confession of sinful man - highlighted by the Jewish rejection of the Messiah, where you would expect the opposite, namely Rome’s rejection of the Jewish Messiah.
The most natural expectation, without reading your Gospels, would be to understand the coming of the Messiah much like Saul, much like David, like Solomon. In other words, it would be the Gentiles, NOT the Jews, who would seek to prevent the ascension of the Messiah to the throne, not the other way around.
It highlights the great temptation of every human enterprise. This confession screams the very cry of every single sinful heart. This is at the root of man’s fall in Adam. Adam was given dominion and rule under God’s sovereign hand, and yet the temptation of every man and woman since adam is to become “As Gods,” to dethrone YHWH and to lift up our own regimes, our own pet kingdoms, so that we might continue in our rebellion unperturbed.
Therefore the title of this sermon is, “We have no King but Caesar.”
But my big idea will be a little more specific, and it is as follows:
Big Idea: “You are allies with the rulers of this world, or you are allies with the king who was exalted by humiliation.”
The Jews chose the former. They chose, in their jealousy and envy of Jesus’ religious popularity and claims, to petition Rome. The Gentiles, represented by Pilate, also have their allegiance tethered by Rome. Truth, justice, meaning, are all laid aside in their mutual commitment to Rome, and to overthrow God’s rule over history.
John’s narrative seems particularly focused in. This is true of all the Gospels. They all slow down.
We have stopped covering years, weeks, days, and are now given a blow-by-blow account, nearly call and response type account from John.
And John is more detailed in some of these areas than the other Gospels.
It is as if the video camera of John’s narrative is taking us inside, and outside of Pilate’s private interviews, and the camera refuses to leave Jesus, even as we see the Jews and Pilate jockey back and forth in a game of political chicken.
This political game of chicken is a three-way conflict.
Imagine an old western type duel. You have your two pistols, and you’re caught in a three-way draw.
We have the Jews on one side. Pilate on the other. Jesus is the 3rd party.
And each of these parties have some ammo in the game.
Pilate’s is obvious: he has the power to execute or not execute a citizen under his jurisdiction. In a sense, this is his conflict to lose. His bullet against the Jews is the strong arm of Rome. Should the Jews misplay their draw, Pilate’s relationship with Rome is enough to make him feel confident in this duel.
Pilate also has this bullet over Jesus, and he makes this brutally apparent. In verse 10 he will say, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and authority to crucify you?”
The Jews’ ammo is less obvious, but no less effective. While they do not enjoy much of Pilate’s political ties, they know precisely where to weaken them. This is why they continue to portray Jesus as a usurper king. This is why they continue to push Christ as a threat to Roman peace and order, not just Jewish. Pilate’s relationship with Rome now becomes his greatest weakness. As much as he hates bending his authority to the Jews, he cannot compromise his relationship with Rome.
This is why the Jews warn him in verse 12, “If you release this one, you are no friend of Caesar.”
Against Jesus, their bullet is this: simply put, it is blasphemy. And for the Jews, this must be magnified. They are not only trying to charge him with blasphemy. They’ve done this plenty of times. They need him to die for it, and so their bullet against Jesus is actually suicidal. They are willing to gamble and bluff their own political unrest, their own relationship with Pilate and with Rome to make sure that Jesus is killed. Make no mistake, the way that the Jews insure Christ’s death is by implicitly threatening Jewish unrest that will report back to Rome and reflect poorly on Pilate.
An obvious question is, “Why?” Why go so far? What is the motive? We’ll get to that.
Jesus has ammo. First, his ammo against Pilate is the fact that he is absolutely innocent. This trail is actually embarrassing for Pilate. Getting dragged into this Jewish political affair is something Pilate cannot stand. This is made clear in statements like verse 18:31, where Pilate says, “You take him yourselves and you judge him according to your law.” Or 18:35, “So Pilate entered into his headquarters 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?’”Or in verse 19:6, “You take him yourselves and crucify him. I myself find no charge against him.”
Against the Jews, Jesus has lots of ammo. First, they have broken every Jewish protocol under the sun to get Him this far. Trail by night. Capital cases were to be heard by a plurality of judges - Annas tried to act individually. Striking a captive was against Jewish law. Nonetheless, they strike Jesus. All of these accumulate to the final reality that they have no real charge against him, and this is made excruciatingly apparent when Pilate interrogates Jesus.
This leads us to where we left off. Pilate has attempted to negotiate with the Jews and the crowds with Barrabas, confident they will not trade this man (a murder and insurrectionist who has strained the Jews relationship with Rome), but will take Jesus.
Now, why Pilate do this?
Pilate was appointed to his post by the Emperor Tiberius in A.D. 26, maintaining this post for about 10 years until about A.D. 36/37. His appointment was largely owed to Sejanus, who was a praetorian guard in Rome - he was a highly influential guy. Before Sejanus’ fall from power, he was one of the most influential and feared citizens of Rome, having accomplished many reforms and eliminated a lot of political enemies for Tiberius. However, in A.D. 31, Sejanus and many of his followers/family were arrested and executed due to suspicions of conspiracy against Tiberius.
Imagine, then, the pickle that Pilate is in. His main influence and reason for power and security in Rome, roughly a year or two ago, was killed for conspiracy - along with all his followers and family. This helps explain a lot because history, for the most part, does not view Pilate as a particularly cuddly guy. Essentially, he is not one to be bullied into a decision by the Jews, ESPECIALLY in regards to their own religious triflings. But understanding this helps you appreciate why Pilate simultaneously seems to despise and mock the Jews at every opportunity, and yet finds himself catering to their demands and threats. No self respecting Roman authority would behave this way unless they believed their political status to be so tenuous, so thin, as to be shattered by poor reports sent to the capitol.
And so Pilate negotiates between two prisoners with the people.
Yet despite all political sense and moral judgment, the crowds cry out, “Not this one, but Barrabas.”
This is what leads into our section:
1Τότε οὖν ἔλαβεν ὁ Πιλᾶτος τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ ἐμαστίγωσεν.
In other words, the occasion for his flogging was the Jews acceptance of Barrabas.
Pilate moves forward. The Jews did not take the bait. They insisted on Barrabas. Pilate is reluctant to give up Barrabas so easily and this is simply a way to set Jesus free.
However, his flogging was not the flogging that Christ would receive before his crucifixion. This was a lesser form of punishment. This is something you do as a deterrent for misdemeanors, stirring up trouble, etc. This was not something done for a serious offense.
The next level offense would be brutal flogging for more offensive crimes.
The next and highest level is what Jesus received AFTER his sentencing. Remember, this beating takes place BEFORE his sentencing. This highest level was a terrible act where several torturers or roman soldiers would take turns flaying the criminal with a whip consisting of bone, pieces of lead, or other metal. Many die simply from this punishment alone. This type of punishment was always accompanied by other punishments such as crucifixion, and in Jesus case it was most likely to speed his death on the cross with the Sabbath rapidly approaching. Otherwise, a crucifixion could last several days.
However, this flogging and “roughing up” was more than just a beating. We read:
2καὶ οἱ στρατιῶται πλέξαντες στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν
ἐπέθηκαν αὐτοῦ τῇ κεφαλῇ
καὶ ἱμάτιον πορφυροῦν περιέβαλον αὐτὸν
3καὶ ἤρχοντο πρὸς αὐτὸν καὶ ἔλεγον·
χαῖρε ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων·
καὶ ἐδίδοσαν αὐτῷ ῥαπίσματα.
This second phase of humiliation is a direct result of the charges against him: the Jews find him guilty of claiming to be a king, ergo he is a threat to Rome. Naturally, Rome sees this and mocks the entire idea in three ways:
Christ is crowned.
He is crowned with thorns - and the type of thorn is not specified here and so it will not receive so much of our attention here. No doubt this was to mock this charge in comparison the Emperor’s lauren wreath, seen on many of the coins of Jesus time. But the point is obvious: the ornament normally meant to portray dignity and power is now reversed to inflict indignity and weakness as the victim bled and flinched under his coronation.
Jesus is robed.
Likely the old military cloak of a soldier of Rome, purple or red feigning imperial or royal significance, the roman soldiers play dress up for their mock king.
Jesus is paid homage.
It says the soldiers came to him, they approached him, and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
“Hail” is sarcastically imitating the greeting given to the Roman emperor.
This helps us understand a couple of things. We know that Rome really does not care about the theological developments of 1st century Judaism. However, Rome DOES care about the political claims of those theological developments in 1st century Judaism. And a claim to kingship is intolerable, something only possible if the Emperor himself gives the title to one of his subordinates.
History tells of Herod Antipas being exiled simply for requesting the title of king!
The Romans mockingly receive their Jewish Messiah, and they do so not merely with words, but to express their true and utter devotion, they come and deal him blows after they profess his kingship.
This scene brings to mind a portion of the Servant Song in Isaiah, to quote from verses 50:5-6
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
This allusion to the Servant Song and the general theme of Jesus’ mock trial will speak to a major aspect of our application, and the point is this: one of the tools the world wields against Christ is mockery and humiliation. The world does not possess truth. It does not possess justice. It does not possess ultimate power. So instead, it mocks, it heaps disgrace. And yet, irony of ironies, the gentile soldiers speak better than they know, act better than they know. John does not let you escape the fact that Jesus is king, even in his humiliation, reminding us of our big idea.
Now Pilate’s soldiers have finished roughing up Jesus before his sentencing, Pilate resumes his role:
4Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν ἔξω ὁ Πιλᾶτος καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς·
ἴδε ἄγω ὑμῖν αὐτὸν ἔξω,
ὅτι οὐδεμίαν αἰτίαν εὑρίσκω
Now pay close attention here:
Why did Pilate bring Jesus out, and to whom was he speaking?
He is speaking to the Jewish crowd.
He has brought him out IN ORDER THAT they may know he has found no charge guilt in him. (this is his second declaration of innocence).
In other words, Pilate is not interested in killing Jesus. He KNOWS who Barrabas was. He does not want to release a known murderer and criminal for a guy who poses zero political threat.
Maybe even more importantly, Pilate really does not want to be in the center of an interreligious battle. He does not want to be pushed and pulled at the whim of Jewish leaders. And yet, He has already tried to hand Jesus back to them, but to no effect.
They will accept Jesus on no other terms except death.
Pilate, brings him out, beaten, disfigured, in mock attire, and presents him to the people.
This is all very intentional. He knows that it is the people who must choose who receives amnesty. His beating of Christ, while ludicrous and unjust, void of any credible charge, is actually an attempt to present the most pathetic individual, coupled with his own pronouncement with innocence!
Pilate has given his verdict! NOT GUILTY. In any normal circumstances, that verdict would stand.
You would think, of course, that the Jews would rapidly descend into confession and repentance, realizing that their zeal to kill an innocent man and their releasing of a murderous zealot would be a heinous sin.
You would think that they would see this act would not only be a sin against God, but further danger to their own posture before Rome as a nation.
But no, that’s not what happens is it?
We continue reading:
5ἐξῆλθεν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἔξω,
φορῶν τὸν ἀκάνθινον στέφανον καὶ τὸ πορφυροῦν ἱμάτιον.
καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς·
ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος.
In irony of ironies, the coming Messiah is crowned. He is arrayed with regal colors. In any other circumstance you and I would be rejoicing. But the reverse should be true! The JEWS should be receiving their Messiah. The Jews should be blessing the nations in the name of YHWH under the banner of their Messiah. But here, a gentile ruler is attempting to persuade the Jews to take THEIR MESSIAH back by roughing him up a little bit, and that is when Pilate says...
“Behold, the man.”
His pronouncement is DRIPPING with irony. This is not a commentary on Jesus’ incarnation. Pilate did not have a sudden revelation of the Trinitarian relationship and hypostatic union of Son to Father and Spirit. No.
Pilate’s pronouncement of “the man” will actually stand in stark contrast to verse 7. We’ll see that in just a moment. This is Pilate’s way of presenting Christ as a no-threat, just a man, and a humiliated and beaten one at that.
And yet WE know that there is deeper irony still. While every witness present at that trial may have been blind to the truth as it stood before them, we know that the Word made flesh stood in their midst.
We know that the man par excellence was displaying his glory over and against the world’s mockery and injustice.
We know that the Son of God, that 2nd Adam, the firstborn of a new creation, THAT MAN is who stood before the world, announced by Pilate to his Jewish audience.
We are reminded of verses like Hebrews 2:8-9, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
The chief priests and officers were not impressed. We read:
6Ὅτε οὖν εἶδον αὐτὸν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ ὑπηρέται
Let this sink in: WHEN they say him, they cried out, saying.
The sight of an innocent man, bludgeoned beyond recognition, resulted in the chanting of “crucify, crucify.”
Pilate’s attempt had failed - failed immediately. What could possible drive this? Where could these motives possibly come from? We will unpack more of this in our application.
This word for cried out is significant, and Chris pointed out last week that the verb, “cried out” in verse 6 is the same verb used to describe the crowd in 12:13 during the triumphal entry. It as if John is saying, “The same crowd and fervor that cried out, ‘Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ is the same crowd now crying out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
Pilate, in this three-way duel, is running out of bullets. The Jews only continue their pressure and are leaving Pilate with very few options.
And so verse 6 continues,
λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος·
λάβετε αὐτὸν ὑμεῖς καὶ σταυρώσατε·
ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐχ εὑρίσκω ἐν αὐτῷ αἰτίαν.
Now, this is obviously an idle threat. The Jews cannot crucify. But it’s a powerful one. Pilate is regaining some composure here. He is emphatic. He is saying, “You YOURSELVES take him and crucify him, for I MYSELF do not find guilt in him.” He is effectively rinsing his hands here. He is done. And again, in any normal circumstances, this type of declaration would stand - and this is his THIRD declaration of Christ’s innocence - which, by the way, stands in contrast to Peter’s threefold denial of Christ prior to this trial. It is as if John is pushing his apologetic to the Jews to the max. He is saying in every way possible: “YOU MISSED IT. Even the Gentiles saw this more clearly than you.”
So Pilate now taunts the Jews. He recognizes they are pushing their advantage to the limit. However, the Jewish leaders are not done, nor are they so stupid as to take his bait literally and crucify him themselves.
Instead, they say:
7ἀπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι·
ἡμεῖς νόμον ἔχομεν
καὶ κατὰ τὸν νόμον ὀφείλει ἀποθανεῖν,
ὅτι υἱὸν θεοῦ ἑαυτὸν ἐποίησεν.
Some things are important to note:
In the Jews reply, their reply is also emphatic. They are saying, “We OURSELVES have a law” in response to Pilate’s accusation.
In other words, this is blow for blow. This three-way duel, Christ largely on the side, is getting spicy, it’s heating up, the volume is getting turned up to 11.
They emphatically toss Pilate’s decision back at him, and they reveal the real heart of the matter.
Up until now, this trial hand been under the guise of Jesus claiming to be a king and therefore a political threat and nuisance to Caesar - something unacceptable and utterly false. Jesus did not claim to be a secular king.
However, they come forward and are finally transparent as to why they want Jesus killed. This isn’t just political. This is theological. He has made himself to be the Son of God, he had committed blasphemy and must die.
Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”
Again, irony of ironies, the Jews up until this point have been trying to get Pilate to convict Jesus on false charges of treason. And NOW, finally exasperated by Pilate’s moves up to this point, are forced to IRONICALLY admit the truth - Christ is the Son of God! It is as if at every turn of this twisted and mock trial, the truth keeps accidentally spilled out of everybody.
Now, irony of ironies, Christ will now be tried and condemned for the Title that he ACTUALLY and truly possesses, namely, the Son of God. Said bluntly, The trial has taken a wicked turn: the Jews seek to condemn God’s Son because he was God’s Son.
This is no longer political chicken by the Jews. THIS is blasphemy.
8Ὅτε οὖν ἤκουσεν ὁ Πιλᾶτος τοῦτον τὸν λόγον,
Now, no doubt, this was an appropriate response.
Imagine, you are doing a trial on a guy who claims to be a king and you find out he’s more of a philosopher type who is really into truth and his kingdom is not of this world.
Fine, you beat the guy, you rough him up a bit, and you send him back out calling him, “the man” in hopes to appease the masses.
THEN you find out that there’s been an intentional miscommunication.
Ya, “the man” you just flogged, “the man” you just had your soldier do a mock coronation of? Ya, “that man” is being brought before you because he has made himself to be the Son of God.
We know also that his wife had a dream and warned him “to have nothing to do with that righteous man” in Matthew 27. Something weird is going on.
Also, as a pagan, Pilate would have understood this differently than a Jew. Pilate would have understood this in light of the stories of gods and demigods appearing among men. While his world would have been ripe with skepticism, just like ours is infested with it, an announcement like this from the Jews was like a bullet through his heart. He was afraid.
And do not let the irony slip you. At the pronouncement of Christ’s true title, the judge of Rome showed more fear of God than the high priests and rulers combined when he was told that Christ was the Son of God.
Pilate then does, what I think, is the logical thing:
9καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ πραιτώριον πάλιν
καὶ λέγει τῷ Ἰησοῦ·
πόθεν εἶ σύ;
ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀπόκρισιν οὐκ ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ.
“Where are you from?”
Pilate’s fears are focused now. Maybe it is helpful to notice that he doesn’t ask, “Who are you from?”
Jesus had told him his kingdom was not of this world! Pilate needs to know where - he needs to know what he is dealing with. He needs to know what type of claim Jesus is making.
Jesus gives no answer. This is the only time Jesus remains silent in his trials in John. Why start now?
When I was a kid, I used to think he was just tired from all the talking and getting beat up, so he was quiet. But that makes zero sense because he will answer Pilate’s next outburst.
Jesus had already told Pilate of his heavenly origin - Pilate still beat him.
Jesus had already explained his answer to this question previously, and Pilate’s response was, “What is truth?!”
So the man who mocks truth, the man who pronounce his victim innocent three times, the man who can exalt himself over the Jews and yet find himself pandering to the implicit threats - THAT man comes to Jesus again and asks, “Where are you from?”
Not only would Christ’s response be redundant, but it would fall on deaf ears. Upon what basis should Christ pander to his willful lack of understanding and political cowardice?
Pilate, having received his answer already, receives silence to the the second inquiry, and it speaks loudly.
Pilate does not appreciate this.
10λέγει οὖν αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος·
ἐμοὶ οὐ λαλεῖς;
οὐκ οἶδας ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχω ἀπολῦσαί σε καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχω σταυρῶσαί σε;
Again, Pilate’s ignorance shines, and it seems some of his previous fear is gone. He boasts of his own abilities and his own prowess, but even now we know this is not true. He has declared Christ’s innocence three times. He does not need a vote. He does not need other people’s opinions to make these decisions, and yet here we are.
Yet he will lecture Christ on his authority, on his ability to release him! His Roman pride is bleeding through, and in this three-way duel between Jew, Pilate, and Jesus, he uses the one threat he has as a Roman procurator over against the Jews on Jesus.
Christ’s silence an insult. He is not impressed.
But Jesus does not allow THIS comment to go without comment.
Jesus guns for Pilate’s heart:
11ἀπεκρίθη [αὐτῷ] Ἰησοῦς·
οὐκ εἶχες ἐξουσίαν κατ’ ἐμοῦ οὐδεμίαν εἰ μὴ ἦν δεδομένον σοι ἄνωθεν·
διὰ τοῦτο ὁ παραδούς μέ σοι μείζονα ἁμαρτίαν ἔχει.
Jesus could not remain silent here. This is the battle of kings and allegiance, just like our big idea: “You are allies with the rulers of this world, or you are allies with the king who was exalted by humiliation.” Such a bold claim of authority by Pilate over the Son of God does not pass without rebuttal.
When he says, “from above,” this is a good Jewish way of referring to God
Christ is not saying that God has given government in general authority. He is not trying to emphasize that Rome is God’s sword at the moment.
The Bible talks elsewhere about the role of government.
Rather, what he is emphasizing is that the present authority that Pilate has over Christ has very little to do with Rome, with Pilate’s strength, or the size of his army. Nothing like that.
Instead, the reason that Pilate has been placed over the Son of God at this point in history at this particular moment is PRECISELY because God Himself has given to him that very authority.
This would be like when God has Assyria judge Israel. It is not that Assyria is now God’s appointed vessel and has a special relationship. No, Assyria has authority to judge Israel at that moment only because God has allowed them to do so. It is not a commentary on God’s favor on that government, but a commentary on God’s using them as a tool.
In essence, Jesus is saying, you can’t even begin to understand all the power that is at play here - and I’m not talking about yours, Pilate.
Jesus has flipped tables on Pilate. In this duel, Jesus has switched Pilate from judge, to being judge. He has switched Pilate from being in charge, to having graciously received his place in history.
Now Jesus as the Son of God is speaking to Pontius Pilate and telling him that unless God from above had orchestrated these events, namely betrayal, he wouldn’t have any part in this case.
Additionally, Jesus makes it very clear: the one who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.
What is the implication? What is Jesus saying?
Pilate just made claims of ultimate authority of the Son of God.
What Jesus did was in effect, say, “Not only do you not have the authority you say you have. But the only reason you’re here with authority over me is because God has orchestrated these events so that they might be so.
Not only this, but this entire trial, this betrayal, this handing over, is affront and sin to God. You are in danger, Pilate, though you are in less danger than the one who gave me to you.”
He is saying, these Jewish leaders, Caiaphas specifically, they are guilty. Pilate, you’re a small fish in the wrong tank who is only there because God has placed you there. And there is almost the implicit threat: choose wisely, you’ve been played and manipulated by Caiaphas and the high priests.
This explains Pilate’s incredible response:
12Ἐκ τούτου ὁ Πιλᾶτος ἐζήτει ἀπολῦσαι αὐτόν·
After that moment, Pilate’s zeal to release Jesus only increased. John spends one sentence on it, but it is enough to communicate to his readers that whatever Jesus said, Pilate received loud and clear. Pilate was going to get rid of this Jesus guy. Jesus bullet in this duel seems to have been quite effective.
However, John only spends one sentence on this. It is as if his quick summary of Pilate’s efforts illustrate how futile and unimpactful those attempts actually were. Because we read immediately after that sentence that the Jews fire back, and they fire back hard and fast.
You can imagine the scene:
Pilate is convinced of Jesus’ innocence, and now he is even further convinced that Jesus is not guilty of blasphemy and is instead being manipulated by the Jewish rulers to accomplish their political purposes.
He is now actively negotiating Jesus release and the details of ending the trials.
As he is declaring this to the people he hears some voices over the rest cry out: “IF YOU RELEASE THIS MAN, YOU ARE NO FRIEND OF CAESAR. EVERYONE MAKING HIMSELF A KING IS AGAINST CAESAR!”
This was precisely the charge of the Jews:
οἱ δὲ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐκραύγασαν λέγοντες·
ἐὰν τοῦτον ἀπολύσῃς, οὐκ εἶ φίλος τοῦ Καίσαρος· πᾶς ὁ βασιλέα ἑαυτὸν ποιῶν ἀντιλέγει τῷ Καίσαρι.
These words were no idle threat. We discussed earlier the somewhat precarious political situation Pilate had.
Should a rival king reach the Emperor’s ears, that would be bad news. Should news of a rival king reach the Emperor’s ears and he discover that Pilate gave him a trial and let him ESCAPE… imagine what would happen to Pilate?
This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ theology. Jesus warns Pilate based on the authority of God over man’s affairs.
Pilate, however, is now riveted by a different fear: He is afraid of the ruling powers of his day. When push comes to shove, Pilate’s greatest strength (Rome) is his now his greatest weakness. Should the Jews complain to Rome, Pilate may find himself on trial instead of the other way around.
The Jews push their hand even more. They are not pushing their Jewish distinctiveness. They are not proselytizing in the name of YHWH. No. The Jews greatest weapon is actually pretending to be more concerned about Rome and Caesar than Pilate.
Pilate and Jew alike are finding their common alliance in the mutual reliance upon man’s rule and man’s authority as personified by Rome. In this three-way duel, the Jewish leaders have so brazenly persuaded Pilate, that this three-way duel is now a 2 versus 1.
This is not lost on Pilate:
13ὁ οὖν Πιλᾶτος ἀκούσας τῶν λόγων τούτων
ἤγαγεν ἔξω τὸν Ἰησοῦν
καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐπὶ βήματος
εἰς τόπον λεγόμενον Λιθόστρωτον, called the stone pavement
Ἑβραϊστὶ δὲ Γαββαθα. In Aramaic, Gabbatha.
The scene is now grim. The Jews have pinned Pilate.
His posture upon the judgment seat is one poised to submit a death sentence. Jesus’ fate is all but sealed from a human perspective. This three-way duel between Pilate, Jew, and Jesus appears to be culminating in a two versus one. Jew and Gentile against the Messiah. The World against the Son of God. The defunct systems of man condemning the perfect, innocent man.
Right before the sentencing, John alerts you to the time for the first time in this section. Otherwise we have just been cruising through, totally engrossed in this back and forth tug-of-war between the Jews, Pilate, and Jesus.
And it was the day of the passover14ἦν δὲ παρασκευὴ τοῦ πάσχα, ὥρα ἦν ὡς ἕκτη.
καὶ λέγει τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις· ἴδε ὁ βασιλεὺς ὑμῶν.
This seems so strange to enter into this section, and several comments are in order. First, any commentary you read will give you 2-3 pages on how this fits with the other gospels (or doesn’t fit if its a liberal scholar). However, what you need to know about what John is doing here is quite profound.
One of the reasons why this trial is so tense is because this is right in the middle of the Passover festival, and this trial is bumping up against the end of that week, the Sabbath of the Passover festival. This explains why the Jews are fired up. This explains why Pilate is rather intense and both hostile AND accommodating to the Jews.
While on the one hand he is an extremely proud Roman governor, he is also politically astute enough to know that SHOULD he incite the Jews at this time of year, during this time of the week, not only will this reflect poorly, but he could lose his position or head depending on how this goes.
John then, by mentioning that it is the day of the passover, is drawing your attention to the fact that while the Jewish leaders forfeit their Messiah to Rome to be killed,
this very day the Passover lambs are being slaughtered.
The passover lamb, which represents that symbolic sacrifice and blood atonement over the houses of Jews in Egypt so that their firstborn may be spared as God judges Egypt!
Now, the very opposite is happening. The Angel of the Lord that passed over the Jews and judged Egypt has now taken on flesh and become the incarnate passover lamb.
While this is lost on everyone at the trial, John is making it clear as day, even reminding you of what he wrote earlier in the book:
John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Yet there is still a valid question, “Why the sixth hour?”
There is a lot of debate around this, but I think D.A. Carson gives the best answer and that he is not contradicting Mark or anything like that, but rather he is looking back to John 18:28, and the trial had begun “early in the morning”, and now it is the 6th hour, or noon.
John’s point theologically is that justice in this trial, having begun “early in the morning” had now dragged on until noon, and instead of resulting in his acquittal we will now see his execution. Evil has, by all appearances has delayed goodness and justice.
But Pilate, even as he takes the same side as the Jews in sentencing Christ - he is not stupid. He knows that the Jews “Caesar” talk is hypocritical. And so he openly mocks them saying, “Behold your king!”
Then finally, as if we couldn’t make the Jewish leaders look any worse. As if we couldn’t think of any more ridiculous illustration of religious hypocrisy and political idolatry, the Jews retort:
15ἐκραύγασαν οὖν ἐκεῖνοι·
Away with him, ἆρον ἆρον, σταύρωσον αὐτόν.
λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος·
τὸν βασιλέα ὑμῶν σταυρώσω; shall I crucify?
ἀπεκρίθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς·
οὐκ ἔχομεν βασιλέα εἰ μὴ Καίσαρα.
Pilate, having played his final card even as he lost the duel manages to drag the Jews down with himself. His taunting baits them into THEIR OWN BLASPHEMY, the very charge by which they were condemning Jesus.
By adamantly denying they have no king but Caesar, they are not just denying Christ, but any meaningful identity with YHWH!
Isaiah 26:13, “O Lord our God,
other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone we bring to remembrance.”
Or Judges 8:23, “Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”
This leads us to several points of application.
First, you are either in alliance with the forces of this world, or the forces of Christ.
You will, like Pilate, be unable to remain neutral to truth. Pressure will come, pressure is coming, and if you are not committed to THE Truth, the Christ, you will simply be a slave to your greatest fears and desires just like Pilate.
We see this everywhere. The world is constantly chanting, “your body your choice” “be who you want to be” “I need to find myself” Etc.
A good way to test your authority is this: when pressure comes in life, where do I run?
For Pilate, he abandoned his character and his morals and he clung to Rome and his political reputation.
For the Jews, they abandoned their role as YHWH’s people and flattered Rome to achieve their goals.
For Christ, He proclaimed God’s kingdom and articulated the sins of the people.
What about you? I know you feel it. I know university life. I’m not stupid. You face pressures like this all the time. Some of them are mundane - I forgot to do laundry, my homework is piling up, I spent to much on food this week and don’t have money for gas: might as well return to those things which I feel give me power, right? Flip through some porn, binge some netflix, get angry and sit in my self-pity and resentment, gossip with my friends, you name it!
When the world’s pressures come for you: Where do you go? To whom are you allied? This is war.
Second, Mockery and deceit are the tools of evil.
This is how both Rome and the Jews proceeded through this trial.
Jesus bore it all, however, and he did so without sinning, without blaspheming God, and without vindicating Himself. He, as the perfect man, proved to be our example of Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Or 1 Peter comments on this saying,
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
As you are mocked, Christian, as you are slandered, take peace in the reality that your King suffered the same on your behalf and was vindicated.
Christ received the mockery of Roman soldiers and the crooked deception of Jewish leaders, knowing that His true crowning and coronation and glory would not come from man, but from God Himself.
Do passages like this mean we should be pacifists? Short answer: No.
Actually, what I believe this teaches is that insofar as you a maligned and ridiculed for your allegiance to Christ, you are called to bear it as you share in his sufferings.
However, this does not negate things like self defense, defending yourself from robbers in your home, etc. This is a commentary on treatment the world gives as a result of your claims in Christ, just as Christ received HIS treatment when he made his claims about God and about himself.
Another way to say to summarize this section might be this:
Christ was exalted through His humiliation, and so are we.
Lastly, temper your politics.
Jesus always had in mind the proper view of the kingdom, and so must we.
This does not mean we don’t care about politics.
This does not mean we only do churchy things and don’t engage the culture.
What I’m saying is, is that our view of the kingdom of God must shape our view of the kingdom of this world.
We must not be deluded into thinking any one world power receives our ultimate allegiance.
We must not be deluded into thinking any one world power receives our ultimate hostility.
Rather, like Christ, we must recognize our ultimate allegiances transcend race, transcend nations, transcend any human sovereignty.
Believe me, this is hard. This is coming from a guy who tends to get fired up thinking about politics.
My litmus test for you is this: is your emotion being fueled by a love for the kingdom of God? If not, you need to rethink your emotional response and repent.
Listen to Jesus’ politics:
18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
He never compromised this mission all the way through 19:1-15.
This is why we have verses like 1 TImothy 6:13-15 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before[d] Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.