28 Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. 29 So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”
30 “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.
31 “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.
“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. 32 (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)
33 Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
34 Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. 39 But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”
40 But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
Points of Interest
- ‘Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning’–John doesn’t bother to report on Jesus’ audience with the actual high priest; apparently there’s no new information of any significance. It’s worth noting that this trial presided over by the official high priest is still highly irregular; it’s done off-hours, finishing before court would usually be open at all.
- ‘Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor’–we move from the religious to the secular authorities.
- ‘because it would defile them’–Jewish religious law contains a long list of items and actions that are considered prohibited or ‘unclean.’ We know these rules today as ‘keeping kosher,’ not eating pork being perhaps the most well-known way of observing the kosher laws. The rules for keeping kosher are for the most part found in the biblical book of Leviticus. The penalty for doing something non-kosher is usually to be excluded from religious ceremonies for a certain length of time; this would be highly inconvenient for a religious professional, particularly during a holiday–which it always seems to be in John’s gospel. Entering a non-Jewish household is not in itself non-kosher according to Leviticus, but highly observant Jews of Jesus’ time would treat it as such. They took a fairly extreme ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to the kosher laws, considering themselves unclean if they did something that even might be or lead to them being non-kosher. Since non-Jews don’t keep kosher, the likelihood of coming across something non-kosher would be much higher in a non-Jewish household. In a preventative medicine sort of way, they just call the whole idea non-kosher.
- ‘We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal’–this isn’t exactly an answer to the question, ‘What are the charges?’ or if it is an answer, it’s a circular one: ‘His crime is that we think he’s a criminal.’ Then again, while it’s hard to see the legal merit of this charge, it is honest; that is, in fact, why Jesus is on trial.
- ‘ take him away and judge him by your own law’–the Romans at this time gave the Jewish council a fair amount of autonomy to govern internal, and particularly religious, affairs; in most instances, though, the Jewish council did not have the authority to assign a capital punishment (IVP Bible Background Commentary).
- ‘This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die’–the preferred Jewish form of execution is stoning. The Romans instead use crucifixion. Despite the repeated attempts to stone him (10:31), Jesus has been insisting that he’ll be ‘lifted up,’ as the Romans would do (3:14, 8:28, 12:32).
- ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’–it seems that this is the charge the religious leaders eventually come up with: Jesus is rebelling against the Romans and trying to set up his own kingdom.
- ‘Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me’–I think Pilate knows that some funny business is going on. The religious leaders aren’t usually so eager to hand someone over to him; nobody likes a narc.
- ‘What is truth?’–in a ‘live and let live’ sort of way, Pilate is perhaps the most this-worldly person we’ve encountered in John’s gospel. If Jesus were claiming to be King of the Jews, or of Galilee, or really of any political entity of any kind, no matter how small, it would be of vast concern to Pilate. But King of Truth? No problem. Pilate scarcely believes in something as conceptual as truth; I bet eternal life would be completely beyond his imagination. ‘King of Truth? That’s it? Knock yourself out. If you want, I myself will declare you Lord of Hope, Master of Time, and Emperor of NeverNever Land right here.’
- ‘He is not guilty of any crime’–Jesus is declared innocent, but not released. As we’ve just learned, truth isn’t Pilate’s highest priority; politics is. There may not be any truth to the charges, but what is truth anyway? The politics of the situation are still complicated.
- ‘Would you like me to release this “King of the Jews”?’–nice try, but they would obviously refuse this suggestion; they’re the ones who turned Jesus in, after all.
- ‘Barabbas was a revolutionary’–I’m impressed by their boldness. They don’t even bother to continue to play along with the idea that they’re genuinely concerned that Jesus may be a dangerous revolutionary. In fact, by asking for the release of an actual rebel, aren’t they essentially admitting right in Pilate’s face that their actual complaint with Jesus is that he’s not nearly enough of a political revolutionary?
Taking It Home
- For you: Pilate may allegedly be the person in charge, but I can’t get over how he seems entirely powerless, trapped as he is between two groups (the Roman government and the Jews) whom he must make happy. I wonder who Pilate would be if he weren’t stuck in this role. Can you relate to Pilate at all? Is there some way you feel trapped? Trapped in anxiety? Trapped in dept? A bad relationship? An addiction? A job you hate? Ask Jesus to free you from whatever you feel is currently holding you in some form of bondage. Are there parts of your identity that have been buried as a result? Ask Jesus to restore you to who he intended you to be.
- For your six: In this passage, the real power of the Pharisees is in how, in pursuit of their own hatred of Jesus, they are able to influence everyone else around them so easily. Pray today about the things and people that influence your six. Thank Jesus for all of the good influences that your six have in their lives. Ask Jesus to provide more people and places to positively influence your six towards him. If there are situations that really negatively influence your six, ask Jesus to protect them.
- For our church: We haven’t heard Jesus explicitly mention his kingdom very much, but it does seem like the whole time he has been trying to demonstrate what that kingdom is like: blind people see, everyone is fed, and there is a whole lot of love. Ask Jesus for more of his kingdom here at our church. Ask Jesus to make our church a place where people would come to experience his kingdom first hand. Can you imagine living in a place where everyone got along, sick people were healed, and the hungry were fed? It just sounds so great. Tell Jesus that our church wants to be like that, and ask him for his help in doing so.