Our King Condemned

John 18:33-19:3, 9-11

Tom J. Nettles

I. Background – 18:25-32

A. Peter’s Denials completed. The crowing of the cock shook Peter back into reality, now aware that what Jesus had told him came to pass.

B. Jesus’ Initial interview with Pilate

1. verse 28 - Note the irony of their complete insensitivity to justice, to the purity of Jesus, to the truth of his claims in contrast to their punctilious observance of the ceremonial law.

2. verses 29, 30 - Accommodating their sensibilities, Pilate meets them outside to ask the nature of the charges. Strangely they do not bring a charge at this point. They imply that Pilate should infer his guilt from the fact that they brought Jesus to Him. How could they possibly do something as indefensible as submit a man to official investigation if he were not guilty of crime?

3. Verse 31 - Pilate initially does not fall for this ruse, and sees that there is nothing here for him to look into. He tells them to take care of it.

4. Now they seek further force to their insistence on Pilate’s cooperation by implying that his crime is a capital crime. “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This implies that they not only were accusing Jesus of blasphemy, but were setting him forth as a criminal against the state.

5.With all the helter-skelter movement and apparent confusion and make-it-up-as-you-go bullying of the Jews, John inserts the viewpoint that al of this is under the control of divine purpose. John uses the same language that he used in 12:33, “To show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Peter has fulfilled the words of Jesus in 13:38 and the  Jewish pressure on Pilate to carry out a capital punishment will fulfill Jesus’ words of 12:32

II. Jesus’ Second Interview with Pilate – 18:33-38

A. The Question about a King – The answer of the Jews had prompted Pilate to ask this question. The reduced version in Luke 23 indicates this is so. Was Jesus really claiming to be a king of the Jews and usurp the rule of Caesar?

B.  verse 34 – Jesus’ response indicates that the question would mean one thing if he were asking from a Jewish standpoint and another if he were asking from a Roman standpoint. The conversation eventually clarifies this.

C. Pilate’s response means that he is asking this question only in light of the accusations that seem to be leveled against him by the leaders of the Jews (“Your own nation and the chief priests.”)

D.  Verse 36 - Having clarified the origin of the question, Jesus does not disclaim that he is that King of Jewish prophecy, but he continues that this kingdom is not of this world. The Jews are right that he has claimed to be a king, but they have grossly misunderstood the kind of kingship he retains and that he will eventually exhibit openly.

E. Verse 37 – Passing power in light of Absolute Truth

1. With some degree of incredulity, emphasizing you, Pilate summarized the claim of Jesus. How is it possible that any such thing as Pilate would envision as implied in a claim to kingship could be even remotely present in this pitiful, but confident, spectacle before him. A king whose followers would not fight! And you, Jesus, dream that there is something out of this world so definite, as to delay making your move until you are beyond this age. Pitiful and intriguing, but certainly no danger to Caesar.

2. In spite of the seething condescension of Pilate’s summary, Jesus affirms that his words of summary are right. He is a king. This has not just happened but was intended from the time of his birth. The statement of Jesus has in it the mystery of the incarnation. It must have appeared strange to Pilate, perhaps a bit deranged, but again not worthy of death. Jesus referred to his birth, the peculiar property of his  human nature; He also cryptically included the idea he had been using to refer to his pre-existence, “I have come into the world.” Both of these spheres of existence relate to the “I” of the sentence. This one person, in the presence of Pilate is God and Man. He repeats the phrase “For this purpose” on both part. “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world.”

3. His Kingship is a witness to the truth (See John 1:14, 17; 14:6) It is the ultimate truth of divine holiness and righteousness as demonstrated most completely in the coming death, burial, and resurrection.

4. By this truth he already is gathering the subjects of his kingdom. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” See Jesus references to those that hear his voice in John 10:3, 5, 26, 27

5. Pilate knows nothing of this kingdom of truth. As with self-protective politicians in any age, all is pragmatics and for the immediate advance of the present consensus. God’s common grace gives stability and justice in some situations, but also permits the rampant selfishness and brutality of fallen creatures to have its oppressive and destructive manifestation. [Remarkably, it is through that specific reality that God is carrying forth his eternal counsel in the covenant of redemption.] Pilate had enough perception to realize that Jesus posed no threat to the immediate status quo but not enough courage to act in accord with the truth of his innocence of the charges implied against him. A kingdom of truth that is not of this world posed no threat either to Caesar or the empire.

III.  Pilate’s attempt to Release Jesus – 38b-40

A. Pilate has had sufficient interaction to know that the alarm raised by the Jews has no substance to warrant the execution of Jesus. He proclaims to them, that as far as he is concerned, he finds no guilt.

B. Perhaps it will be sufficient as a tacit admission of something punishable that he proposes a release of Jesus as the release of a prisoner. That way they have their right to stigmatize him as a criminal, and he does not have to violate his own judgment by executing a man that he knows is innocent of the charges. In what tone he called Jesus “The King of the Jews” we cannot discern. It could be with an air of condescension for them to recognize that if they desire a king then such a pitiable figure as this forsaken and bedraggled peasant was perfect for them. It could have an element of sincerity in that Jesus presented himself in a forthright and impressive manner, far superior to the bitter and divisive animosities that he daily observed among the Jews, and that one that stood so far above them in confidence and purity of motive deserved to be a king over them, rather than the object of their scorn and hostility.

C. They would not have his proposal of such a release. They preferred the release of Barabbas. Maybe Barabbas’s zeal for overthrow and his willingness to use violence had made him something of a hero. Their preference of Barabbas showed what kind of Messiah they sought and expected. The release of a prisoner at Passover is not clear to us but it seems to have been assumed by both the Jews and Pilate. It could arise from the Jew’s desire to commemorate their release from bondage in Egypt by having their present oppressor give some symbolic recognition that they maintained the integrity of their nationhood even though they did not at present have self-government.

IV. Pilate’s Attempt to placate the Jews by brutalizing Jesus short of death – 19:1-5

A. Verse 19:1 – Though Jesus was innocent according to Pilate’s judgment, in an attempt to satisfy the Jewish blood-lust and at the same time preserve the life of Jesus, he has him flogged.

B. Verses 2, 3 - His claim to kingship is then mocked with a crown of thorns and, over his crimsoned, purpled, dripping body they place a purple robe. The Spirit of mockery accelerates as the salute him as :”King of the Jews” and show their respect for such royalty and fear of such authority with a slap in the face.

C. Verses 4, 5 - Surely, the present reader must marvel at the incredible incongruity of Pilate’s explanation of this action. He brings him out in this state of bloody mess and in the regalia of his mocked royalty with this statement of purpose, “that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”

D. This scene gives the historical background to Peter’s statement, looking at both the travesty of human justice and the certainty of divine sovereignty: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people’s of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27, 28)

V. A New Issue Enters –The Jews continue to demand his crucifixion, though Pilate insists that he has found no guilt in him. They now bring in an accusation of his claim to be Son of God. This blasphemy was a capital crime. The Jews did not seem squeamish about taking matters into their own hands at times as in the case of Stephen and in their intent to stone the woman taken in adultery. But with Jesus they press for crucifixion. Perhaps they are pursuing the ignominy that would be attached to Jesus as under a specific curse for being hanged on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23) They wanted him not only dead, but cursed by Scripture itself. It is possible that this interpretation of his life and death circulated among the Jews for Paul brings out the idea in Galatians 3 and points to the reality, that, in fact, Jesus did become a curse for us, and he relates it to the passage in Deuteronomy. When Pilate absorbed the nature of this accusation, that he claimed to be the Son of God, he goes back to Jesus

A. Already hearing about a kingdom not of this world, Pilate begins to fear that more is at stake in the handling of this man that originally appeared. Jesus already had given the tantalizing statement about himself as having come into this world to bear witness to the truth. Now Pilate asked, “Where are you from?” Could it be that there is a kingdom of truth that is not located in this present world?

B. Having proclaimed already that he had a kingdom not of this world, Jesus does not respond to the question.

C. Desperate for some clarity in this disturbing case with this perplexing man, Pilate resorts to a threat. He played the card of authority—either to release him or crucify him. In this threat he shows his own weakness, and his inability to act according to truth. Jesus was king of a kingdom of truth. Pilate operates only on the basis of power—“Might makes right.” Even if you are innocent, that gives you no warrant for release, for I have power!

D. Jesus responded to this claim. He informed Pilate that, in fact, he did not act on the basis of his own authority, for he was given authority from above, from the location of Jesus’ own kingdom. In other words, “I am not in your hands, you are in mine.” Jesus could have a two-fold meaning here. God establishes all authority (Romans 13:1, 2) so Pilate is in his position only by the will of the God and Father of Jesus. Second he could mean that, in this place of God-given authority, divine providence also has delivered Jesus to Pilate for this very moment. Pilate is acting in an official capacity, but Judas sought the opportunity to achieve personal material gain by delivering over Jesus to this entire lawless charade. Neither is guiltless. Pilate is guilty because  he is willing, under pressure, to surrender an innocent man to punishment. The initiator of the betrayal and arrest, however, has the greater sin. Added to the perversity of this evil is the further aggravation of Judas’s sin by means of his constant involvement with the teaching and the holy, compassionate lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus again brings the moral and divine perspective into this. Pilate would be shocked at the accusation that he had any sin at all in his actions.

VI. Observations

A. Jesus has known the coming of this hour from the beginning of his ministry. This probably occupied his mind and informed his teaching even in the temple at twelve years of age. He has not been taken by surprise, but knows that what strikes fear and confusion into his disciples is that grand culminating success of the intent of the eternal covenant made before the foundation of the world.

B.  These events are grand examples of a theological observation called “compatibilism.” That means that God’s accomplishment of all his plans with certainty and invincible determination, necessarily involving decisions, actions and attitudes of innumerable men and women does not in any way diminish the moral responsibility of those creatures. They acted as they saw fit and did what was in their heart even as God controlled [and controls] all things according to the counsel of his own will. God’s pure and holy will is done while men incriminate themselves by their unjust, unloving acts done in virtual disregard of God’s holy Law.

C. All of this unfolds just as Jesus had told his disciples and the relevance of his assurance to them followed by his intercessory prayer for them becomes set in brilliant profile for their comfort and assurance, and for ours, as they truth of all he says and does is confirmed. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:32, 33)