As a teacher and parent I have heard a lot of lame excuses in my lifetime. Once when I was teaching high school courses in a state penitentiary an inmate was found to be in possession of an eyedropper and a hypodermic needle. When asked what he was doing with it, he replied, “I was using it to feed the birds.”
Early in the history of the church, many excuses were made for the conduct of the Gentiles in the trial and execution of Jesus, the Messiah. Christian legend would tell us that Pilate’s wife was a true believer, and that even Pilate, himself, came to faith in Christ.173
The effect of some of these early church writings was that the role of the Gentiles in the murder of Jesus Christ was played down, while the guilt of the Jews was stressed. One does not need to read far to sympathize with the negative reactions of the Jews to such blame-shifting.
From our last study, it was evident that the Jewish nation was clearly guilty of rejecting their Messiah and of condemning Him to death. Our study of the Roman trial of our Savior will convince us that the Gentiles were also to blame for the death of the Messiah. While the outward forms of legality may have been maintained in Jesus’ Roman trial, the substance was just as evil as that of His Jewish trial(s).
Before we begin our lesson, let me suggest that it is not really Jesus Who is on trial in our text, but Pilate. Throughout John’s account we see Pilate torn between the innocence of Jesus and the insistence of the Jews to put Him to death. Pilate is like a ping pong ball batted from one side to the other. Ultimately, he failed the test, just as his Jewish contemporaries.
In order to comply with the rules of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court met a second time shortly after daybreak to go through the formalities of a legal trial and to pronounce sentence. In order to dispatch with this matter as quickly as possible, the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before Pilate early in the morning. It would seem as though they expected little opposition from Pilate and that they were surprised and irritated by his efforts to conduct this matter strictly according to Roman legal procedures.
Pilate was the fifth procurator of Judea, a position which he held for ten years.174 As such, he possessed almost absolute power over the Jews and was directly responsible to the emperor. So long as imperial authority was maintained and Roman taxes were paid, Pilate allowed the Jews to exercise a great deal of self-government. The Sanhedrin was, therefore, both the highest religious and civil Jewish authority in Israel, subject to Pilate. One right Rome carefully guarded was that of capital punishment. The Jews could not, as they admitted, put a man to death (John 18:31). For this they must receive Pilate’s approval.175 This was why they came to the Praetorium early in the morning.
Pilate was not a man who was predisposed to do any favors for the Jews. There seems to be little doubt that he despised the Jews and their customs, and that he would eagerly pursue any opportunity to vex his Jewish subjects. Whatever Pilate granted the Jews in this trial, he did begrudgingly.
Ill feelings were mutual between Pilate and his Jewish petitioners. When the Roman governors arrived in Jerusalem, they customarily removed their standards (a pole with a Roman eagle or an image of the emperor mounted on the top), respecting Jewish sensitiveness to such images. This Pilate stubbornly refused to do, so he left his standards visible as he entered Jerusalem. Immediately, there was a confrontation. Since Pilate’s choice was to arrest or slay the entire nation, he reluctantly gave in and removed the standards.
Some time later, Pilate decided Jerusalem needed a better water supply. In order to finance the construction of a new aqueduct, he took the money needed from the Temple treasury. When a crowd of protestors gathered, Pilate had some of his soldiers, dressed as civilians and mingling in the crowd, beat the demonstrators and subdue the crowd. Such actions did not engender warm feelings on the part of the Jews toward their procurator. The incident recorded in Luke 13:1, of Pilate mingling the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices, further widened the gap between Pilate and his Jewish subjects.
While Pilate could have learned some lessons in diplomacy, the Jewish leaders did little better. They not only insisted upon having an audience with Pilate early in the morning, but they then insulted him by refusing to enter the Praetorium. They flaunted him with their religious scruples, and forced him to come out to them. I doubt that Pilate was in a very benevolent mood.
Perhaps with considerable irritation, Pilate demanded to know the charges against Jesus (verse 29). Seemingly caught off guard, the religious leaders had to search for the right words. They could not present the Jewish charge of blasphemy, because Roman law would not recognize such an offense. Thus, they attempted to skirt the issue, “If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you” (John 18:30). Pilate was unimpressed with such a poor explanation. He rightly perceived that it was, at the bottom, a religious issue, not one involving Roman law. And so he replied, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law” (verse 31). His petitioners revealed more than they wished when they countered, “We are not permitted to put any one to death” (verse 31).
John underscores the significance of this statement in verse 32. Had the Jews alone put Jesus to death according to their law, it would have been by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). There are several possible reasons why the religious leaders may have preferred crucifixion to stoning. First of all, it was, by far, the most painful and drawn out means of execution. They had years of pent-up anger and hostility toward Jesus. A quick and easy death was too good for Him. Second, crucifixion was more humiliating, and in the Jewish mind, implied that Jesus was thereby discredited. The Old Testament Scriptures referred to this kind of death as an evidence of divine disapproval (Deuteronomy 21:23). Finally, by this form of execution the Jews seemingly placed themselves in the background. In their eyes, it placed the responsibility (or guilt) for Jesus’ death on Rome. At least they must share the blame.
John’s comment in verse 32 reminds us that in this event, regardless of the motives of our Lord’s Jewish or Roman persecutors, was a fulfillment of our Lord’s words of prophecy concerning the type of death He would die: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). The saving death of the Messiah was one that was to be by crucifixion.
While John does not inform us of the charges made against Jesus, Luke gives three, all of which had political overtones which Pilate could not overlook: “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). Going inside to speak with Jesus, Pilate pursued the critical question of Jesus’ kingship—“You are the King of the Jews?” (verse 33).
One would wonder what the tone of voice was with which Pilate asked this question. Initially, it was probably one of sarcasm and scoffing. John pictures Jesus’ response, not as a fervent defense of Himself, but as a probing of Pilate’s own heart. “Are you saying this on our own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” (verse 3).
Jesus was more interested in the motive behind Pilate’s question than in pursuing His own defense. Pilate dispelled any possibility of genuine interest or concern. He was just doing his job, and not really enjoying it either. Pilate’s only concern was to learn the reason for the intense efforts of those who were outside to do away with Jesus (verse 35).
Pilate wanted to know if Jesus was any real political threat to himself and to Rome. Jesus quickly set aside any such thoughts: “My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My Kingdom is not of this realm” (verse 36).176
Pilate probed further into the nature of Jesus’ kingship: “So You are a King?” (verse 37).
Our Lord responded, “You say correctly that I am a King. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (verse 37). Jesus could not deny His kingship, but He could put Pilate’s fears to rest that He posed some kind of threat to Rome or to his own rule as procurator of Judea. The purpose of our Lord in His first coming was not to revolt against divinely ordained authority, but to reveal the truth of God to men. Revelation, not revolution, was His calling.
There seems to have been a mild appeal and invitation in the words of our Lord to Pilate. He had first asked if Pilate had questioned Him out of any personal interest (verse 34). Then He said, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (verse 37). This should have encouraged even the slightest desire to pursue spiritual matters with the Savior.
Pilate’s answer made it clear that he was not in any way seeking the answers to any spiritual questions: “What is truth?” (verse 38). Here is the response of the agnostic and the skeptic. Pilate had no deep desire to discover the truth, either about the issues of eternal life, or even of the questions underlying the accusations made against Jesus. He simply wished to know if Jesus posed any threat to him.
Worse than this, it would appear that Pilate doubted that there was any such thing as truth. The only thing amazing about such a statement is that it is so contemporary and similar to the thinking of our own age. How sad it is when men despair due to the fact that there are, in their minds, no absolutes on which to base one’s beliefs and actions.
In Pilate’s mind, the conversation was finished. There was nothing more worth discussing. His time was too valuable to spend with this Galilean. While he was uninterested in pursuing spiritual truth, he at least was convinced that this Jesus posed no political threat to him or Rome. Whatever His Kingdom might be, it was neither political nor revolutionary.
Going out to the Jews, Pilate gave them his verdict: “I find no guilt in Him” (verse 38). The charges which the religious leaders pressed simply did not square with the facts. It was evident to Pilate that the real issue was not treason, but jealousy (cf. Matthew 27:18).
At one stage in the Roman trial of Jesus, Pilate had attempted to sidestep the matter by raising the question of jurisdiction and sending Him to Herod, but this effort accomplished nothing except to heal a breach in the relationship of these two politicians (Luke 23:7-12). Now he would try another approach, so that he would not have to reap the consequences of standing upon his convictions. He would attempt to adapt a Jewish custom to suit his own ends.
For some time there had been a custom of releasing some Jewish prisoner at Passover time. It would seem that the selection of this prisoner was made by the Jewish people, rather than by Pilate. Perhaps he could avoid his dilemma with a sophisticated type of plea-bargain. He could pronounce Jesus guilty, satisfying the Jew’s desire to shame Jesus publicly, and yet he would then release Jesus—in effect to pardon Him—so that no grave injustice would result.
Pilate could live with this compromise, but not the Jewish enemies of our Lord. They wanted blood, and nothing less. Pilate gave them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas.177 I suspect that he picked Barabbas because he was such a hardened criminal that no one would want him turned loose in society. He was a revolutionary, a thief, and a murderer (verse 39; Luke 23:19). But when it came down to a choice between one or the other, the crowd chose to let Barabbas live, and Jesus die.
The hypocrisy and evil of this decision is all too obvious. The crowds178 were willing to release a hardened and dangerous criminal and to crucify One Who was without blame. They released a man guilty of offenses far worse than those with which Jesus had been charged. Surely their hatred and rejection of Jesus clouded all sound judgment.
Having failed to accomplish his aim in offering to release Jesus instead of Barabbas Pilate tried yet another approach. He had Jesus mocked, beaten, and scourged,179 hoping that this would appease the blood-hungry crowds. Perhaps the crowd would have pity on Jesus after He had been severely punished. Perhaps, too, they would come to see the folly of supposing that such a pathetic figure could conceivably pose any threat to themselves or to Rome. Perhaps this is why Pilate brought Jesus forth to the crowds with the words, “Behold, the man!” (John 19:5).180
Sensing Pilate’s reluctance, the chief priests and officers pressed him vigorously with the demand, “Crucify, crucify!” (verse 6). Pilate then sought to have the Jews go about their evil deed on their own (verse 6). This would help to solve his troubled conscience. It was only now that the underlying issue surfaced. “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (verse 7).
The Jews had wanted a king (cf. John 6:15), but not the kind of king Jesus promised to be. They did not want a king like Jesus, and they could therefore not tolerate His claim to be the Son of God. Now the truth was out.
The religious charge of the Jews did not produce the desired effect upon Pilate. Seemingly in that callused heart there was at least some kind of religious sensitivity, even if only pagan superstition. As a Roman, he knew there were many accounts of the gods coming to the earth in the form of men. Besides this, Pilate had been warned by his wife not to take part in the execution of this “righteous man’ as she had been warned in a dream (Matthew 27:19).
This statement by the Jews prompted further investigation by Pilate, who by this time was even more fearful of his predicament (verse 8). The question, “Where are you from?” (verse 9), I would understand to be an investigation into Jesus’ origins. Was it possible that He actually was the Son of God (or in pagan theology, ‘a son of a god’)?
To this question of Pilate, Jesus gave no response. Jesus’ innocence or guilt with regard to the charge of treason did not hinge upon matters concerning His origin. Pilate must stick to the issues. Pilate was both perplexed and frustrated by the silence of the Savior. “You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” (verse 10). Pilate supposed that his authority should have awed the Lord Jesus, and that in the face of such power Jesus could not dare to remain silent. Jesus’ reply informed Pilate that his authority should not feed his pride, but produce humility. “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin” (verse 11).
Several observations about the nature of Pilate’s authority should serve to humble him. First of all, his was a delegated authority. It was ‘given to him from above.’ Man only has authority to the degree that God gives it. The ultimate source of all human authority is God. Second, while Pilate possessed divine authority in a specific sphere,181 that authority carries with it responsibility for one’s actions and decisions. Pilate wanted his authority but was desperately trying to avoid the responsibility that came with it. While the one who delivered up our Lord182 had the greater guilt, Pilate must share the burden of responsibility for his decision concerning the execution of Jesus.
Pilate was a tormented man. It was not Jesus’ destiny which hung in the balance, but his own. Our Lord consistently struck a sensitive nerve in the moral conscience of this Gentile governor. The Jewish leaders sought to find a weak point at which they could apply all the leverage of their advantage.
Pilate went out from his last conversation with the Master with a renewed determination to let him go (verse 12). But the smell of a Jewish victory was in the air and with renewed boldness the Jews revealed their last and most forceful argument: “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar” (verse 12) .183
Were it not for the skeletons in Pilate’s political closet, this threat would have posed no challenge to him. But his administration was strewn with the wreckage of high-handedness, cruelty, and corruption. He could not afford to have Rome investigate any charges against his administration.
The struggle was over. The Jewish leaders had prevailed, sitting down in the judgment seat. Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” (verse 14).
It is hard to discern whether the tone of his voice was appealing or sarcastic. Regardless, the Jews demanded the crucifixion of the Savior (verse 15). In answer to the question, “Shall I crucify your King?” (verse 15), the chief priests tragically responded, “We have no king but Caesar!” (verse 15).
With this statement, Israel’s leaders publicly renounced their greatest hope, the hope of a coming Messiah-king. Their hatred of Jesus was so intense they were willing to renounce the greatest doctrine of the Old Testament Scriptures, that of the coming of Messiah who would be Israel’s King. They proclaimed themselves to recognize only one king, Caesar.184
Not Jesus, but Barabbas. Not Jesus, but Caesar. What could be more tragic than this? And with this statement, Pilate delivered Jesus up to be put to death (verse 16).
Historically, it is evident that responsibility for the rejection and crucifixion of Christ must be shared by both Jews and Gentiles. It is interesting that very early in the history of the church there were writings produced which tended to play down the guilt of the Gentiles, and spotlight the guilt of the Jews.185 Such teaching must be rejected as inaccurate and unbiblical. Jews and Gentiles alike stand guilty for the rejection of Jesus Christ.
Pilate is a tragic representative of all those who reject Jesus Christ in the face of overwhelming evidence and contrary to the pleadings of one’s conscience. John’s purpose in recording the details of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is to demonstrate the innocence of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus was not put to death as a political traitor, but as a political pawn. Just as Caiaphas had pronounced that Jesus must be done away with for the sake of expediency (John 11:50), so did Pilate.
Pilate was the victim of the consequences of his own past sins. Had he not committed sins of pride and passion, he would have had no fear of the investigation of his administration due to the changes of the Jews. As it was, he capitulated because his sins were all too evident. Pilate feared the judgment of Rome more than that of heaven.
The consequences of the decision made that day are such as to make even the present day reader of history shudder. Within a year Pilate was removed from office because of his harsh and insensitive treatment of his subjects. While Pilate may never have had to face the awesome specter of the scrutiny of Tiberius, some have said that he preferred to die by his own hand. In 30 years the Jews drank the cup of divine wrath to the brim, when the Jews sought to carry out the crime with which they charged the Savior. The details of the slaughter that followed are horrifying.186
Many of us, like Pilate, would prefer not to have to pass judgment on the person and claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we, like Pilate, cannot avoid a decision. And the consequences of this decision determine our eternal destiny.
Two observations remain to be made. First we are reminded of the vast difference between morality and legality. In a technical sense, the condemnation of Christ to die on a Roman cross was legal. In spite of this, it was the greatest moral transgression of all time. We must discern the difference between morality and legality.
I have a friend who encountered a would-be philosopher at a party. My friend put his finger on a fatal flaw in this young man’s thinking when he observed, “The trouble with you is that you have failed to distinguish between sin and crime. There are a lot of sins that are not crimes. And there are a lot of crimes that are not sins.” My friend was talking about the difference between legality and morality.
Here is one of the great deficiencies of legalism. It assumes that what is legal is also moral. In our society a man who is guilty of murder can be acquitted because of some legal technicality. Once abortion or using drugs is legal many consider that it is also morally right. We must distinguish between legality and morality. Neither Pilate nor the Jews saw the distinction.
Second, I am impressed by the ‘unscrupulous scrupulosity’ (as Edersheim phrases it) of the Jewish leaders. They would not defile themselves by entering into the Praetorium, yet they would conspire to put to death the sinless Son of God. Here is illustrated the condemning words of our Lord when He accused the scribes and Pharisees of ‘straining gnats and swallowing camels’ (Matthew 23:24). Here is also one of the great dangers of legalism. In stressing meticulous obedience to some kind of code, it fails to differentiate between that which is really important and that which is incidental.
Listen to these words of our Lord:
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated. You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the attar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the alter that sanctifies the offering? Therefore he who swears, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:16-24).
Throughout the history of the church, legalistic Christians have failed to discern between that which is primary and secondary. As a result many needless divisions have resulted and much harm has been done. Sincere Christians were put to death by other Christians because they differed with them over the necessity and mode of baptism.
Let me caution you, my friend, and I do so with sincere gravity. Some of those things which set us apart, which make us distinctive as a church (in particular, from other orthodox churches) may be non-fundamentals. Listen to me well. I did not say that these matters are unimportant, but they are not essential to saving faith or to genuine orthodoxy. Dare we divide or condemn others when we differ here? I fear that much unprofitable criticism of men like Billy Graham falls in this area. Legalism may be at the root of our failure to distinguish between matters of great importance and those which are of lesser importance, even if true.
I have a friend whom I respect highly, Dr. Haddon Robinson. There is a statement by which I will always remember him. “I will go to the wall for a lot of issues, but not for that one.” There is a lot of biblical wisdom in those words. May God enable us to discern those things which are worthy of our ‘going to the wall.’
173 “Later Christian legend was very sympathetic to Pilate, and tended to place all the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews, and to exonerate Pilate completely. Not unnaturally, legend came to say that Pilate’s wife, who it is said was a Jewish proselyte, and was called Claudia Procula, became a Christian. It was even held that Pilate himself became a Christian; and to this day the Coptic Church ranks both Pilate and his wife as saints.” William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1958), II, p. 397.
175 R. T. France aptly observes, “To the Romans, the hearing before the Sanhedrin was an unofficial preliminary hearing, while to the Jews the Roman trial was a regrettable necessity to give effect to a sentence already passed, on other grounds, by themselves.” R. T. France I Came to Set the Earth on Fire (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 145. There is considerable discussion concerning whether or not the Jews could put a man to death in the light of several notable exceptions, such as the stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:8–7:60). For a thorough discussion of this matter, cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pp. 786-788.
176 Some would conclude from our Lord’s statement that Jesus never conceived of establishing an earthly kingdom. They would understand the only kingdom of our Lord to be His reign in the hearts of men. They would thus not look forward to the literal fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of a millennial Kingdom. Such an interpretation of these words spoken to Pilate would hardly seem to fit the facts. First of all, one would have to spiritualize all the Old Testament prophecies of a literal kingdom. Second, Jesus was speaking specifically to Pilate’s concerns about Him being a possible threat to Rome’s authority in Palestine. He was simply saying that the purpose of His first coming was to reveal God to men and to redeem sinners, not to revolt against Rome. Finally, Messianic hopes are still very much alive after the death and resurrection of our Lord (cf. Acts 1:6f.). Our Lord’s return and the establishment of His (literal, earthly) Kingdom on earth constitute much of the subject matter of the New Testament.
177 “Still more interesting is the near certainty that Barabbas was also called Jesus. Some of the very oldest versions of the New Testament, for example the ancient Syriac and Armenian versions, call him Jesus Barabbas, and both Origen and Jerome knew of that reading, and felt it might be correct. It is a curious thing that twice Pilate refers to Jesus who is called Christ (verses 17 and 22), as if to distinguish Him from some other Jesus. Jesus was a common name; it is the same name as Joshua. And the dramatic shout of the crowd most likely was: “Not Jesus Christ, but Jesus Barabbas.” Barclay, Matthew, II, p. 399.
178 France suggests, as do many others, that the crowds were merely ‘rabble’ assembled for such an occasion, to give the appearance of popular support for the verdict of the Sanhedrin: “Much is sometimes made of the fickleness of the Jerusalem crowd which could welcome Jesus with hosannas, and a few days later clamour for his death. But there is no reason to suppose they were the same people. It was the Passover pilgrims who welcomed Jesus, but what pilgrim worth his salt would be hanging around the governor’s palace early on the morning of the great day of the festival when there was so much to be prepared? Besides, the narrow street outside the ‘praetorium,’ where the trial was held, would not allow a very large crowd to gather, only a small fraction of the thousands in Jerusalem that weekend. It is hardly likely that the Jewish leaders, who had planned the arrest and trial of Jesus so carefully, left the composition of the crowd to chance: ‘rent-a-crowd’ is not a purely modern technique.” France, I Came to Set the Earth on Fire, pp. 152-153.
Such a view does not seem to me to fit the facts. There was ‘a multitude’ assembled at Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:47,55), multitudes at His trial (Matthew 27:20,24), and a large crowd at His crucifixion (Luke 23:48). Could such ‘rabble’ constitute a multitude? Would a shrewd politician like Pilate not sense that these ‘rabble’ were just a ploy?
Let us recall that the Jewish leaders felt that they could not deal with Jesus as they would like so long as public sentiment was in Jesus’ favor (Matthew 21:26,46). As a division among the masses began to grow concerning Jesus (John 7:40-41) the scribes and Pharisees become bolder in their attempts to arrest Jesus (John 7:32,45). After our Lord’s triumphal entry (John 12:1-19), the Messiah hopes of the masses were again aroused, but when Jesus clearly spoke of His death (John 12:32) the crowds were again disillusioned. The last verses of John 12 seem to indicate a much broader rejection of Jesus than ever before. While in Mark 4:12 the passage in Isaiah 6 was quoted to show that Israel’s leaders had rejected the Messiah, John applies it to the nation at large. Jesus was rejected by His nation. While the rejection of some may have been more passive than that of others, Jesus’ death had widespread approval. Pilate had rightly assessed the strength of Jesus’ opponents.
179 “The severity of this form of punishment is seen in certain incidental references. Thus Josephus tells us that a certain Jew, son of Ananias, was brought before Albinus and “flayed to the bone with scourges’ (Bell. vi. 304). Eusebius narrates that certain martyrs at the time of Polycarp “were torn by scourges down to deep-seated veins and arteries, so that the hidden contents of the recesses of their bodies, their entrails and organs, were exposed to sight” (HE, iv. 15,4). Small wonder that men not infrequently died as a result of this torture (cf. the passages from Cicero cited by Godet).” Morris, John, p. 790, fn. 2.
180 “Pilate may be using the words in a somewhat contemptuous manner. The expression need mean no more than “Here is the accused,” but it is likely that John saw more in it than that. Jesus is THE man, and in this dramatic scene the supreme governing authority gives expression to this truth. Some suggest that John may intend an allusion to “the Son of man.” It is impossible to imagine Pilate using exactly this form of words. It is not at all unlikely, however, that John intends “the man” to evoke memories of Jesus’ favorite self-designation.” Ibid., p. 793.
181 I must point out that Jesus in no way questioned the fact that Pilate, as a part of a divinely ordained government, had the authority to mete out capital punishment. Jesus’ words support the right of government to execute criminals.
182 Bible students do not agree as to who this one is who must bear greater responsibility than Pilate. This person must have delivered Jesus over to Pilate and also must have done so without divine authority (verse 11). I would suppose that this best refers to Judas, and not Caiaphas, the high priest.
183 “When they said this, they used their most telling argument. He did not want the Emperor Tiberious, now on the island of Capri ill with loathsome diseases, filled with suspicions and full of ill-will and revenge, to hear that he had sided with a prisoner in a case of laese majestas. The punishment meted out for any officer of the Empire on such charge was confiscation of property, removal from office, torture by banishment, or something even worse. Pilate was sure that the Jewish Sanhedrin would like to send such a report to the Caesar. He quailed before the clear threat.” J.W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), p. 591.
Everett Harrison quotes Ethelbert Stauffer concerning the expression, ‘Caesar’s friend’: “The expression “Caesar’s friend” was a technical term. This title was an honor reserved for loyal senators, prominent knights, and notorious administrators. It assured its holder a brilliant career.” Everett Harrison, A Short life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), p. 215.
184 “The opponents of our Lord, unable to find a way of action for themselves on their own lines, fell in with the Sadducean policy of Caiaphas—a policy which, however hateful to themselves, yet made itself dominant by proving itself alone efficacious. There is this additional tragedy, then, in the final close—that the Pharisees, for the sake of slaying the Lord, foreswore the creed which had been their glory and their life, and allowed themselves to be found crying in Pilate’s Hall, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” H. S. Holland, The Philosophy of Faith and the Fourth Gospel (1920), p. 192, as quoted by Harrison, A Short life of Christ, p. 215.
186 “Thirty years later, on this very spot, judgment was pronounced against some of the best citizens of Jerusalem. Of the 3,600 victims of the governor’s fury, not a few were scourged and crucified! Judas died in a loathsome suicide, the house of Annas was destroyed some years later, Caiaphas was deposed a year after the crucifixion, and Pilate was soon after banished to Gaul and there died in suicide. When Jerusalem fell, her wretched citizens were crucified around her walls until, in the historian’s grim language, ‘space was wanting for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies.’ The horrors, of the siege of Jerusalem are unparalleled in history.” Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels, p. 592.