Episode 140 - Before Pilate, part 2
Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 140 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 139, we saw Jesus being escorted to the Praetorium, the grand palace of the Roman governor Pilate on the western side of Jerusalem. It was early in the morning, and the Jews refused to enter the residence so that they might not be considered unclean, and thus unfit for joining in the Passover festivities later that day. By this point, Jesus has been spit on, mocked, beaten, and wrongfully accused so many times, yet He had not reviled in return or defended Himself in the least. His disciples had all been scattered, Peter had denied Him three times, and the Jewish authorities were on the verge of committing a judicial murder of their long-awaited Messiah. We ended the last episode by looking at Jesus standing before Pilate in Luke 23. John chapter 18 also records some important details, so let’s start there today:
"Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”"
(John 18:28–31 ESV)
As I talked about briefly in the last episode, Pilate had “gone out” of the Praetorium to an area often called “the pavement”, where he sought to hear the accusation against Jesus. Now remember that Pilate had likely authorized the use of Roman troops to capture Jesus the night before this, so on some level, he consented and believed Jesus was indeed a threat. So the Jews show up in the morning and are met with resistance from Pilate. It’s almost as if something had happened to Pilate to cause him to be a little bit more hesitant. He didn’t just give Roman troops to do things haphazardly or indiscriminately. So now Pilate is at least cautious. He says “ok, here we are, it’s 6:30 in the morning, what charge do you bring against this guy?” And all they say in return is “if this guy wasn’t an evildoer, we wouldn’t have brought him here”. What is that?! Again we can see how foolish the Jewish authorities are. It’s like saying “he’s a bad guy, and we wouldn’t have brought him before you if he wasn’t! So take care of our bad guy!” The charge of evil and blasphemy uttered by the Jewish authorities wouldn’t really have any weight before Pilate, as he would have judged it as a religious matter. So he tells them to judge Jesus according to their own law, but that was not going to satisfy their desire to have Jesus destroyed, which is what we’ve seen them wanting so often throughout the Gospels. Here is where Luke tells us what substantial accusations they bring against Jesus. He writes:
“And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”"
(Luke 23:1–5 ESV)
The first major accusation against Jesus to Pilate was that He mislead the nation, or turned them away from loyalty to the Roman empire. The Jewish authorities wanted to keep the peace with Rome so that they would remain in their leadership positions and retain their wealth. For Jesus to undermine their teaching would be to turn the people against them and potentially usurp them from leadership. They also accused Jesus of forbidding them from paying taxes and being loyal to Caesar, the Roman emperor. But clearly this was incorrect, as we saw from Episode 121 from Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Through this accusation, the Jews were seeking to make Jesus a revolutionary or an insurrectionist. They also accused Jesus of claiming Himself as the Christ. Remember, in Jewish expectation, that word had nothing to do with someone dying for their sins. As we looked at back in the supplemental episode following Episode 21, the word “christ” was the throne-name of the kings of Israel, like “Pharaoh” was for the kings of Egypt. As I’ve talked about often in this series, from the very first chapter of Luke, we see Jesus being set forth as that long-awaited, final king of Israel from David’s line that 2 Samuel 7 talks about. The Jews of course did not believe Jesus was the promised son of David and sought to use this accusation to further paint Jesus as an insurrectionist. Ironic, isn’t it? It was the Maccabean Revolt, another insurrection that we looked at back in Episode 35, that had given a measure of victory to the Jews over the Greeks. But now the Jewish authorities completely flip-flop their tone in order to retain their position and wealth in the system.
Before we continue looking at Pilate’s response, let’s consider the setting again for a second. Jesus had been escorted by the Jewish authorities from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium by the Jews, but the Jews refused to go past the “pavement” that they might not be made ritually unclean. But as we’ll see, it seems like Jesus would have been actually escorted into the Praetorium by guards when He arrived while the Jews remained outside. Now how ironic is that? Jesus, the Holy One, who has never committed a single sin, who has always been and always will be ritually “clean”, actually became “unclean” in the eyes of the Jews as He entered into a pagan residence. And then the ones who had no love for God in their hearts, who, under the guise of obedience to the Law, sought to remain “clean” by not going in. They’re handing over an innocent man who was God Himself because of the hatred for God in their hearts. This hypocrisy, what Jesus often called “the leaven of the Pharisees”, comes to its climax here. Well, let’s keep reading from John 18:
"So Pilate entered 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?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 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.” 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.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him."
(John 18:33–38 ESV)
Alright, so John tells us that Pilate, after hearing the accusation of the Jews outside on the Pavement, walked back into the Praetorium where Jesus was being held, and asked Him about the charges directly. John alone records this exchange between Pilate and Jesus. In one sense we could say that Pilate was the one being examined by Jesus here. You can almost hear the tone in His voice, reaching out in mercy for him. I love how some of the films and more recent television series have portrayed Pilate in this moment as somewhat troubled and uncertain. Though he had the power to determine Jesus’ end on a cross, Jesus Himself would ultimately have the power over him as the bearer of God’s true words. Now in this section of dialogue, Jesus speaks a phrase that’s commonly misunderstood. He says “my kingdom is not of this world”. This is often seen as Jesus saying that He has some sort of spiritual, heavenly kingdom, and that the Jews and Pilate somehow have it all wrong. But Jesus is not making that kind of contrast. He’s saying that His kingdom would not come about and be established in the way that the kingdoms of the world are established. How do we know that? He says if that were the case, “my servants would fight”. Jesus is saying something that He’s already said to His disciples, that His kingdom is not going to be established by the strength of man, by having an army fight for Him in some insurrection against Rome. As we looked at back in Episode 108, Jesus’ kingdom would be established suddenly from the heavens when He descends from the sky and takes over the earth. Does that make sense? This isn’t about Jesus redefining or reworking anything. He’s simply affirming Jewish eschatology from the Law and the Prophets. Well, let’s continue in John 18:
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him."
(John 18:38b ESV)
See how this is? The Gospels say that Pilate went in, and now he’s going back out. It’s so easy to miss that when we’re reading, but the Gospels really are giving us a clearer picture of what’s going on than we may initially realize. Now according to Roman law, any sentence of a prisoner had to be in public, so Pilate and likely a number of guards bring Jesus back out to the Jews on the Pavement. He’s still bound with chains, perhaps not having eaten or drank anything since the meal in the upper room, having been beaten, struck, and spit on. It’s early in the morning and this bloody, weary frame is before them, and this is the moment that the Jews have been waiting for - the moment that Pilate will give Him over to death. But what happens? All of that hope is dashed in a second when he says “I find nothing wrong with him.” He utters just a little bit of truth, and the feel we get from the narrative in the Gospels is that it was like a spark that ignites a firestorm of all of their hatred for God. Luke 23 says:
"But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”"
(Luke 23:5 NKJV)
Again, just picture the scene. It’s still early in the morning and there’s an uproar at Pilate’s house. This wasn’t one or two guys trying to whisper because the city of Jerusalem was still just waking up. Imagine what residents who lived close to Pilate thought. The Jews’ hatred for God was being exposed even more in yet another deeply ironic moment. Pilate, the Roman governor is saying something true about Jesus, and the leadership of Israel, the Jewish nation who should have been the ones most able and qualified to speak what is true of their Messiah, are not able to and even are dead set against Him. Their hearts were so hard. Yet Jesus once again says absolutely nothing in response to their vehemence. Check this out from Matthew 27:
"But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed."
(Matthew 27:12–14 ESV)
Pilate knew what manner of a man Jesus was. He had just gotten a taste of His character in his private questioning inside the Praetorium. Yet before the Jews, Jesus stood silent. And Pilate marvels, because he’d been in that same position perhaps dozens of times, watching a man about to be condemned and seeing how they flail, writhe, defend themselves, and do whatever they can to get out of the fate awaiting them. But Jesus is not like that whatsoever. His silence is absolutely astonishing. Wow.
Well, we are out of time for today, but in the next episode we’ll look at the next step in Jesus’ journey to the cross as He is sent to Herod. In the meantime, go back and watch any of the past episodes you may have missed in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and I hope you come back next time.