About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Jesus Before Pilate (ch. 18:28-40)


You might have heard that Jesusí trial was a mock trial.  A couple of reasons why this is true are because the Jewish law concerning such trials were not to be carried out at night.  When Jesus came before Caiaphas, it was at night.  Also, one could not be sentenced to death on the same day as his trial.  One day had to at least transpire between the trial and the sentencing.  This was not the case with Jesus.  Jesus, the Just One was tried in an unjust way.


In verses 28 to 30 we see a delegation of Jews leave the meeting of the Sanhedrin to go to Pilateís palace.  The Jews did not go into the palace because according to rabbinical law, they would be defiled and thus could not eat the Passover.   So they stayed outside and Pilate went out to them to hear the charges they had against Jesus. 


There are a couple things to note here.  One thing is that the Jewish leadership was concerned about breaking their laws.  They did not want to enter the Roman palace because that would make them unclean and thus they would not be able to eat the Passover meal.  On the other hand they had no problem breaking their law concerning this illegal trial.


The second thing to note here is that John says the Jews didn't not want to defile themselves because that would mean they could not eat the Passover.  This means the Passover had not yet taken place.  This would mean that what we read in John 13 through 17, which included, what Christians call the Lat Supper, was not the Passover meal.  Also remember after Judas was exposed as the betrayer he left the room.  The other disciples wondered if he was then going to buy what was needed for the Passover meal, meaning, Passover had not yet taken place.  The problem arises when we read from the other gospel accounts that what we call the Last Supper was during the Passover meal.  At this point, I'm not sure how to reconcile these differing accounts.           


After Pilate asked the Jews what charges they had pronounced on Jesus, in verse 30 they replied by saying, "If He were not a criminal, we would not have brought Him to you."  This wasnít really a specific answer to Pilateís question.  He wanted to know the specific charge.  They didnít tell him right away.


In verse 31 Pilate tells them to try Jesus according to their own law.  As yet, Pilate didnít know why they brought Jesus to him so this is why he suggested they take Jesus to their own court.  Jews had some legal autonomy, that is, they legally had a right to try certain crimes.  One thing they could not do was to execute a person convicted of a crime and that is what they wanted to do with Jesus as is seen in verse 31. Obviously at this point Pilate must have thought this matter was more important than he first thought.


In verse 32 John tells us that the words spoken here by the Jews to Pilate signifies by what death Jesus would die. It would be in fulfillment of prophecy, that is, of how Jesus said He would be killed (John 12:32-33).  Jesus would be crucified, not stoned.  Jews stoned criminals.  Romans crucified criminals.  There was also one particular section of the Law of Moses that plays a part in this as well.  Deuteronomy 21:23 states that "Cursed is any man who hangs on a tree."  This was in fact what the death of Jesus was all about.  He was cursed by God, not by the Roman or the Jews.  He was so cursed because He was punished for every sin of every man and woman who ever lived on the face of this earth.  


At this point the Jews must have told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews, a claim that was worthy of death because there was only one king and he was Caesar, king of the Roman Empire.  Of course the Jews themselves would never admit to a Gentile king being over them, but in this case they did because it helped their cause.  Again, this is yet another place in which the Jewish leadership disobeyed their own traditions in order to promote their cause.  It would have been blasphemy to publically acknowledge that they had another king instead of Yahweh, but that didn't matter to them at the time.  They just wanted Jesus dead, and they would bend their traditions to accomplish this.   


In verse 33 Pilate goes back into the palace to question Jesus.  He asks Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews."  At this point Pilate knows the charge the Jews brought against Jesus. This charge in Roman law had the sentence of death.  No one could claim to be a king.  This was considered treason.


When the Jews say that Jesus claims to be their king, they are implying to Pilate that Jesus is claiming to be a secular type king.  They are twisting what Jesus has said for their own benefit.  Jesus never said that He was a king in the secular sense of the word.  He claimed to be the Jews Messiah, which was more of a king in a spiritual sense, at least at this time in history.  The Jews knew that the term Messiah meant nothing to Pilate.  He could care less about things pertaining to Jewish religion.  So the idea that Jesus claimed to have aspirations to be king over Israel in a nationalistic sense would have some weight with Pilate.


So, with this definition of the word king in mind, Pilate asks Jesus if He was king of the Jews.  Jesus did not answer with a simple yes or no answer.   In verse 34 Jesus answered with a question of His own.  He asked Pilate, "Is that your own idea, or did someone else talk to you about me?"  I think Jesus was getting personal with Pilate by asking this question to him.  He was zeroing in on Pilate and asking him personally how he felt about Him.  Was Pilate just going on hearsay or had he given some personal thought to Jesus being a king?


If Jesus had said that He was a king, within the context and definition of the word king that was being used by the Jews, He would not be telling the truth, yet, on the other hand, Jesus was a king, just not the type of king Pilate had in mind.


In verse 35 Pilate replies by asking, "Am I a Jew?"  What he is saying here is that he is not a Jew, how should he know about Jewish matters.  Romans had little dealing with Jews, especially on religious matters.  Romans werenít interested in the Jewish religion, and to Pilate this was fast becoming a religious matter.


Pilate continues by saying to Jesus that it was His people and His leaders that handed Him over to him.  How should he know about the charge?  So Pilate asks Jesus, "What is it that you have done?"


Jesus knows about the play on words here.  He knows that the Jews have told Pilate that He claims to be a king so now He begins to redefine the word king for Pilate.  In verse 36 Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world."  By these words Jesus is answering Pilateís questions in a very truthful way.  Without saying the words "I am a king," He implies that He is a king, but, not the type of king Pilate would understand.  He says that His kingdom is not of this world.  Jesusí kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, at least right then and right now.


Jesus goes on to say that if His kingdom were an earthly kingdom then His servants would fight to prevent His arrest.  This is how earthly kingdoms work.  They fight when confronted with opposition.  Jesusí followers did not fight.  Peter attempted but Jesus healed the man that Peter tried to fight.


This tells us something clear about Jesus and His kingdom.  Jesus isnít king of an earthly kingdom (at least not yet - He will be when He returns to earth) and therefore He and His subjects act differently than those in a secular kingdom.  Christians do not use physical force to promote the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, any group over the years, even some of the Reformers in the 1500ís and the Roman crusades of the 1100ís and 1200's, were wrong in using force to promote the Kingdom of God.  We have different weapons.  We donít use swords, guns, and bombs.  The sad fact of the matter is that here in 2016 there is a growing movement among Christians to purchases guns to use against their opposition.  I do not believe this practice to be Biblical. 


Jesus specifically says, "Now my kingdom is from a different place."  Jesusí kingdom is a heavenly kingdom.  It is a kingdom where the centrality of who God is lives.  Jesus represents this Kingdom.  The Bible also calls the Kingdom of God , the Kingdom of Heaven , because Heaven is where this kingdom originates.


Pilate responds in verse 37 by saying, "You are a king?"  I think Pilate is still thinking in terms of an earthly king.  I canít see him really grasping what Jesus is saying.  He had no concept of an invisible heavenly kingdom.  


Jesus answers by saying, "You are right in saying I am a kingÖ"  Jesus still does not come out and say He is a king, especially a national king as Pilate would have understood, but, what He does say is that Pilateís assessment of Him being a king is right.  It is in fact Pilate that is saying Jesus is a king, even though Pilateís idea of king is still different than Jesusí.


Jesus then says that the reason why He was born into this world was to be a king and to testify to the truth and those who want to know the truth listen to Him.  This was a very dramatic thing for Jesus to say.  He is saying that He is saying that the reason for His birth was because some day He will be king.  Of course, that some day has not yet arrived, but it will.  As Gabriel told Mary concerning the birth of Jesus; He will sit on the throne of His father David.  Jesus will some day rule from a literal earthly throne, known as David's throne, from the literal city of Jerusalem, but first, there were things He needed to do, the cross, His resurrection, His ascension into Heaven with His glorified body, being three of these things.    



Jesus said that those who know the universal truth will follow Him.  In fact Jesus Himself is the central truth of the universe (John 14:6).  Everything that is true is only true because Jesus is the truth.  Iíve said it before but even simple math equations like two plus two equals four is true because Jesus is truth.  Anything that is true finds its source in Jesus because all things have come by and through Him.


In verse 38 we see Pilate leaving the room, and maybe, or at least the way I picture it, muttering to himself, "What is truth?"   I can just see Pilate shaking his head as he was leaving the room, somewhat disgusted with Jesus because of this claim of truth.  In other words, he is saying, "What is truth anyway Ė you donít know Ė I donít know Ė no one knows." 


I believe deep in Pilateís heart the words of Jesus had an impact as they always do.  He may have been shaking his head and saying, "What is truth," yet deep in his heart he might well have been asking this question seriously.  If this was not the case at this precise moment, I believe Pilate had lots to think about when he was alone with his thoughts.  One cannot listen to Jesus speak without the words echoing around in his heart and mind afterwards.  


Pilate then goes back outside and tells the Jews that he doesnít find any legal fault with Jesus, especially something that should end in His execution.  In verse 39 Pilate then proposes that they release Jesus because it was their custom to release a prisoner each year at Passover.


No one really knows when this custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover began.  It probably symbolizes Israelís release from Egypt.  There might be some historical evidence that Pilate himself began this practice just a few years earlier. 


In verse 40 we see the crowd outside demand that Pilate hand over a man named Barabbas, a man who led a rebellion against Rome.  It is ironic that Jesus was executed for being a revolutionary when He wasn't but the one who was released was a real revolutionary.   


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