sermon: Jesus Christ's Trial (Part Three)
The Roman Trial
Martin G. Collins
Given 30-Mar-13; Sermon #1150; 70 minutes
Martin Collins, continuing his exposition of the incredible illegalities of the trial of Jesus Christ, examines Pontius Pilate's role in this hideous, shameful affair. When we look at the secular accounts of the tenure of Pontius Pilate, we find that his diplomatic behavior with Jesus Christ is out of character of the rest of his reckless exploits, including his marriage to Claudia, a powerful woman with connections to the highest echelons of the government, but whose mother had a most unsavory, immoral reputation throughout the empire. It is ironic that under the proper application of Hebrew law (designated the most humane in the world) and Roman law (designated the most just in the world—the model from which all the legal systems in the western world operates), Jesus should have been acquitted or exonerated, but cowardice and yieldedness to public opinion and mob rule led Pilate to ultimately capitulate, even though he knew in his heart of hearts Jesus was innocent. Pilate's attempt to be neutral in a decision that would have required courage backfired on him, causing him to utterly fail in leadership. As God's called out ones, we need to soberly reflect on Pilate's example, determining not to repeat it in our own lives. We must prepare ourselves for life's crises, determining to come down solidly on the side of righteousness and truth. Pilate, who wisely saw through the Jewish equivocation, hypocrisy, and outright lies) could have acquitted Jesus, putting him under protection of Roman garrisons as other leaders had defended the apostle Paul, but he did not, and has consequently gone down in history as a consummate coward. Unlike Pilate, who glibly denigrated truth, we are required to live by every word of truth.
In my first sermon on Christ's trial, I gave a general overview of the events in which the trial(s) took place. The trial of Jesus which resulted in His crucifixion was two separate trials—one Jewish and one Roman. The trials are separate as far as the jurisdictions, the charges, and the judges. The only common elements are the accusers and the accused.
These two trials have four main features: 1) The arrest. A mob guided by Judas and lead by the chief priests and captains of the Temple came out with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. 2) The Jewish trial, which I covered in the first two sermons. We looked at the illegalities of Christ’s arrest and trial and the laws governing the trial of Jesus that were broken so many times that it is difficult to see how the arrest and trial could have been more illegally run and where the laws of Israel were more thoroughly ignored and broken. 3) The Roman trail. This was necessary because although the Jewish court could convict, it could not execute and therefore had to seek Roman concurrence in its verdict. 4) The crucifixion, the execution of the sentence of the two trials.
Today we will cover the third feature—the Roman Trial.
John 18:28-32 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning [that is the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar]. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?”They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,”[the real reason for the Jewish leaders to go to Pilate is seen right there in that statement.]that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.
The reason for the two trials is that the Jewish court had lost the power to administer the death penalty by that time and, consequently, since the leaders of Israel were determined to have Christ executed, they were forced to secure a Roman verdict along with their own. This makes for a unique and fascinating situation as far as trails go because it means that in this one instance a man was tried, on the one hand, by a court of heaven seeking to apply the revealed law of God, and on the other hand, by a court of man seeking to apply what is genuinely thought to be the most highly developed form of law we know.
The Jewish law was probably the most humane system of law ever devised, and so great was Jewish respect for human life that it was practically impossible to execute a person under the jurisdiction of a Hebrew court. Now Roman law was excellent as measured by the comprehensiveness of its coverage: systematization of formal statutes, elaboration of court procedures, and the affixing of penalties.
It has been said of the ancient world that Judea gave us religion, Greece gave us letters, and Rome gave us law. The laws of Rome have been passed on to the western world as the basis of its judicial systems. The Germans were never defeated by the legions of Rome and in fact were eventually the people who overthrew the declining Roman Empire, yet they unquestioningly adapted the Roman law and edicts. The influence of the Roman's was so heavy.
Considering the nature of Roman law with its careful attention to procedure, we might think that the trial before Pilate would be much easier to understand than the trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, yet this is not the case. On the contrary, although the Hebrew trial has its puzzling elements, we might ask, for example, how Jesus could possibly be rejected by the leaders of His own people, those who should have known who He was on the basis of the Old Testament prophecies. Rejection is nevertheless understandable taking into account the enmity that exists between man and God.
He was rejected because He was hated, and He was hated because He had revealed the leaders sin, and none of this makes sense where the trial before Pilate is concerned. Pilate did not hate Jesus; if anything he seems to have respected Him. He even acquitted Him, pronounced Him innocent on three separate occasions, and yet he eventually turned Jesus over to be crucified.
We must constantly remind ourselves who is really in charge even through all this injustice. God the Father and Jesus Christ never lost control of the situation that went on in front of the Jewish court and the Roman court.
Perhaps the greatest mystery in the case of the Roman trial is the marked contrast between what we know of Pilate's character, as revealed in the secular sources, and his conduct at the trial of Jesus, as revealed in the gospel narratives. Now Pilate was not of noble character; in fact if it were not for his influential connections through marriage, he would never have even come to the relatively insignificant post he held as Procurator of Judea.
He came from Spain. Being a native of Seville he had joined the legions of Germanicus in the wars on the Rhine, and after peace had been secured he went to Rome to make his fortune. There he met and married Claudia Proculla, the youngest daughter of Julia, who was the daughter of Emperor Augustus.
From the perspective of Pilate's future this was a wise move. Claudia had connections with the highest levels of the Roman government. But morally it was a disgrace because Julia, who thereby became Pilate's mother-in-law, was a woman of such depraved and coarse habits that even in decadent Rome, she was notorious. Even Augustus, her father, avoided her presence and eventually banished her. It is reported that afterword, whenever someone would mention the name of his daughter to him (Augustus), he would exclaim, “Would I were wifeless or had childless died.”
A man of nobler instincts, unlike Pilate, would not have married into such a degenerate family. Nevertheless through his new connections, Pilate applied for and was awarded the procuratorship of Judea, which he assumed in AD 26. He was the sixth procurator and those before him were Sabinus, Caponius, Ambivus, Rufus, and Gratus. That is meaningless to us, but it shows that there was quite a long list of rulers that had this position before Pilate
These earlier rulers had exercised great care and had governed the people wisely with respect for the religious prejudices of the Jews. In particular they had carefully avoided exhibiting any emblems, flags or standards because they bore the images of the emperor and were offensive to the Jewish population. They were very sensitive to the feelings of the Jewish populace, but not so with Pilate.
Now even Vitellius, the legate of Syria, when he was marching against the Arabian King Aretas, ordered his troops to march around Jewish territory rather than carry their battle standards through it. Yet Pilate, in obstinate folly and in defiance of established policy of the earlier procurators, provoked a confrontation on this and other matter with the Jewish populace.
Now there are three incidents that stand out. 1) When Pilate arrived in Judea he sent soldiers to Jerusalem by night carrying ensigns, blazoned with the image of Tiberius. That he did this by night indicates his awareness that there might be trouble from doing this. But the fact that he did it at all indicates his insensitivity to the feelings to those whose land he was to govern. Nor did subsequent developments prove him wiser.
When a city was defiled in this way, great numbers of the Jews in Jerusalem flocked down to Caesarea, where Pilate was staying, to demand that the standards be removed. Pilate refused and the stalemate went on for five days. Finally the procurator grew angry, summoned the people to the stadium, surrounded them with soldiers and gave notice that they would be killed if they did not immediately and quietly disperse. To his surprise they threw themselves to the ground, exposed their necks and declared that they would rather die than to see their holy city contaminated. When he saw that he could get his way only by wholesale slaughter, Pilate reluctantly backed off and had the ensigns removed.
Now Pilate's actions were not typical of Roman administrators. In fact, thanks to Josephus, we have a nearly parallel story with an entirely different result. It involved a Roman officer named Petronius. Petronius had a much greater incentive to enforce his will than Pilate had to enforce his, because he had been specifically commanded by the Emperor to place the imperial image in the Temple.
But Petronius sensed the problem and tried negotiations; when those failed, he bravely reported his decision not to enforce the decree and the reasons for his decision to Caiaphas. Petronius was an example of Roman courage and diplomacy at their best and Pilate's conduct reveals the opposite characteristics.
Now the second incident reveals the same flaws in Pilate's character. He had determined to build an aqueduct to bring water from the pools of Solomon into Jerusalem. In itself, this was commendable and would have been favored by the citizens of the city, but Pilate's startled and enraged them by the foolish act of raiding the sacred “Corban” treasury in order to fund the work. The Jews considered this money set aside to God to be used only in His work. To plunder it was sacrilege, yet Pilate went ahead and did it anyway.
Now later when he learned that the people would be sending citizens to beg for the restoration of the Temple's money, he sent soldiers into the crowd disguised as common people who, on a prearranged signal, drew hidden clubs and daggers and attacked the demonstrators. In this episode, Pilate had his way but intensified the hatred of the people of Roman rule.
Now Josephus and Philo also tell of a third episode in which Pilate, despite his previous experiences, insisted that votive shields dedicated to Tiberius, be placed in the palace of Herod. Again the Jews objected and Pilate refused to have the shields removed. At this point a petition signed by the leading men of the nation, including the named of four of the sons of Herod, was sent to the Emperor asking for the removal of the offensive objects. Significantly, Tiberius granted their request and the shields were taken out of Herod's palace and hung in the temple of Augustus at Caesarea instead. So we are getting a feel for the unwise nature of Pilate's decisions.
We might add to these examples an incident recorded by Luke, in which the blood of certain Galileans was mixed with their sacrifices.
Luke 13:1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
Now the Galileans were known for their wickedness; they were evil people. Now while they were sacrificing at Jerusalem, Pilate came suddenly upon them and killed them and their blood was mingled with the blood of the animals that they were slaying for the sacrifice. It does not mean that Pilate offered their blood in sacrifice, but only that as they were sacrificing he killed them—the people. This is another example of his cruel a reckless dealings with the Jews. This was one ruthless man.
In each of these incidents and from each of the writers through whom we learn of them, we receive an amazingly consistent picture of one who obviously did not have the sensitivity or strength of character to rule well. He was stubborn, proud, corrupt, violent and cruel.
Yet the mystery comes in at this point because as soon as we turn to the gospel accounts we find a portrait, not of one who is cruel and insensitive, but rather of one who seems to be sensitive to the cause of justice through his apparent desire to have Jesus of Nazareth acquitted.
The gospel writers could have no reason to enhance Pilate's character considering his background. He was the one who actually carried out the crucifixion of Jesus. So it is not far-fetched to assume that the account of his actions are correct in every word and every way. But this does not seem to agree with what we know of Pilate elsewhere. The true Pilate was arrogant, overbearing, and unyielding. This Pilate is attempting at every stratagem and compromise he knows to have Jesus acquitted. As I mentioned before, he had him acquitted three times.
First he reopens the case to the obvious surprise and consternation of the Jewish leaders. This is the essential point of the verses in which John begins his account of the trial. Jewish leaders must have arranged with Pilate to have a hasty morning confirmation of the verdict that they were supposed to have reached the night before. This appears to be preplanned. But instead of the quick ruling they expected, Pilate began a formal hearing.
So what had happened to Pilate in the preceding 8or 9 hours; why had he changed his mind? Therein is the mystery. As the trial goes on, we see Pilate's concern demonstrated in other ways. Three times over he declares that Christ is innocent. Here in John 18:III John writes:
John 18:38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” [he is speaking to Jesus] And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.
John 19:4 Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.”
John 19:6 Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”
Three times over he declares Christ's innocence. Again, when the leaders are adamant in opposition to his verdict, he tried a series of subterfuges. He sends Christ to Herod hoping that Herod would take the matter out of his hands. He offers a choice between Judas and Barabbas, wishing that Jesus might be set free, and then finally he scourges Jesus thinking that the sight of a bleeding, broken man, who was marred more than any other, might move his accusers to pity.
What accounts for this unusual change in Pilate's character? Why is he trying to release Jesus? Now it may be that Pilate was impressed by the person of Jesus, and we can imagine this to be true because of what we believe concerning the presence and overriding dignity of Jesus Christ. But we have to admit that there is very little on the narratives that suggests this as Pilate's real motivation.
We sense that Pilate may have been impressed, but if he had put it into words, he probably would have dismissed Christ as a harmless religious fanatic and little more. Now certainly this was no overriding reason to spare him.
The probable explanation is this: on the morning of the trial, Pilate, according to Matthew's account, received an urgent warning from his wife Claudia who was in the city with him over this particular weekend saying that he should have nothing to do with Jesus and giving as her only the reason—that she had dreamt about him.
Matthew reports this in Matthew 27:19.
Matthew 27:19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”
To those who live in the 21st century, this may seem almost inconsequential, but the Romans were particularly superstitious where dreams were concerned and seldom undertook any grand enterprise without some inquiry as to what the gods or fate deemed favorable.
To Pilate, his wife’s warning would therefore have been quite serious. He might have determined to extricate himself, at whatever cost, from his earlier agreement to consent to Jesus' death.
Furthermore this generally overlooked factor in the events of the Roman trial makes sense of several other elements. I'm going to give you five elements here.
Pilate and Claudia were probably spending the night together on the evening Jesus was arrested.
Claudia would have known of the visit of Caiaphas or whoever made up the Jewish delegation and would have learned of its purpose, either through being present or through asking Pilate about it afterward.
She went to bed with thoughts of Jesus in her mind and then, quite understandably, dreamt of Him with forebodings. Now whether God inspired that dream or not, we do not know, but nevertheless she did have a dream.
She awoke in the morning to find that Pilate had already risen and left the palace, and therefore knew at once, the business on which he was embarked and her own need for haste
She quickly wrote the message that Matthew records and forwarded it to her husband saying that he was not to condemn that righteous man.
So it appears that it was Pilate's wife that stiffened the Roman instinct for justice in Pilot at a moment when he was tempted from personal considerations to humor the prejudices of Jewish adversaries and commit Jesus on their recommendation alone.
It seems that it was she who was the author of that phase when the tyrant was seen for a few hours in the guise of a patient administrator, anxious to weigh the truth completely because what the gospel account shows is not the description that we get from the secular history of Pilate.
It was only as the stimulus faded against the grinding growing opposition of the Jewish party that the threat of Caesar's intervention became paramount and it ended as he intended it to begin by delivering the prisoner into their hands.
Now with that, we confront the second great mystery of the Roman Trial. The first was that Pilate acted out of character in his obvious desire to have Christ acquitted. Now the second mystery is that in spite of this great desire and in spite of his power to see that his will was carried out, in the end Pilate consented to Christ's execution.
One lesson in this is the impossibility of a neutral stance where Christ is concerned. Pilate clearly wanted to release Him, but he was not a believer in Christ nor was he was not a follower of Christ; he merely wanted to be innocent of Christ's condemnation and he failed miserably. He could not be neutral and neither can we in our stance. We must either be for Christ, in which He will strengthen us and enable us to live for Him even in the midst of great trials, or we are against Him no matter how humane, noble, understanding, or loving we may consider ourselves to be.
The second lesson concerns the need to be prepared for life's crises. When Pilate arose that morning, he certainly did not expect to be confronted by the greatest decision of his career. That morning all he thought he was going to do was consent to a routine condemnation that was basically not much of his concern. Yet suddenly the crisis was on him, and Jesus was there, and He was either innocent or guilty. What was Pilate to do? How could he act? We know the outcome; we know that he failed.
We would be wise to conclude, therefore, on the basis of his experiences as well as our own, that we should never count on a sense of nobility which Pilate undoubtedly thought to be true in his case. We should not rely on insight which is always expected of judges or the warning of friends, as was the case in the urgent communication with his wife, to be adequate to lead us to do the right thing in a crisis situation.
The only thing that is adequate is the life of Jesus Christ within us, God's Holy Spirit abiding within us and a close relationship with Him out of which He can speak to us and lead us to do the right thing in spite of our human reasoning and natural inclinations.
Earlier we dealt with two puzzling aspects the Roman trial. 1) The contrast between what we know from secular sources regarding Pilate's character and the way the four gospels indicate he actually conducted the trial, and 2) Pilate pronounced Christ innocent, and yet condemned Him to be crucified. Now these elements make a study of the Roman trial quite difficult and suggest levels of mystery that are possibly unfathomable. There is one aspect however of the Roman trial that is not the least mysterious. It is the tendency of human nature meticulously to go through all the external forms required by a situation while at the same time denying the very reality the forms stand for.
There are two examples of this in the second segment of Christ's trial. On the one hand there is the example of the Jewish rules. We are told back in John 18:28 that to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
Here were men engaged in a very vile act—the judicial murder of Jesus, yet they were concerned about being ceremonially defiled. They had convicted an innocent man of crimes worthy of death breaking dozens of their own laws in the process. They were some of the most unworthy people to keep the Passover that have ever walked on this earth.
They were about to seek a parallel conviction from Pilate by illegally and unconscionably changing the nature of the accusation made against the prisoner, yet they were concerned about a ritual purification. What hypocrisy! Sadly it is a human tendency to harshly judge others for similar things that we ourselves do in our own lives. Some even neglect fellowship with others because they do not think others live up to their self-set standard. They do not think people are righteous enough to fellowship with. Is a person like that worthy of keeping the Passover? I cannot answer that; only God can because He knows the heart.
The other example of this human tendency is Pilate, who made a great show of justice while actually allowing mob action to force his acquiescence in the death of a man who he knew was innocent. Some people have insisted that the real trial was before the Jewish Sanhedrin and that this was merely an informal hearing, but their argument overlooks the actual stages of the trial as they are recorded for us by the New Testament authors.
A Roman trial had 4 essential elements: the indictment, the examination, the defense and the verdict. Each of these is present in Christ's trial. The official nature of the proceedings is indicated by Pilate's opening words in verse 29:
John 18:29 So Pilate walked out to them and said, “What is the charge that you are bringing against this man?”
This question is very keen and indicative of the presence of the judge and at the beginning of a solemn judicial proceeding. Every word rings with the Roman authority and strongly suggests administrative action. However Pilate's questions seem to have caught the Jewish leader by surprise because instead of replying with a formal indictment, as they should have been prepared to do, they attempted to evade the question by answering in verse 30.
John 18:30 “If he were not an evil-doer, we should not have handed him over to you,” they replied.
At the very least the reply of the leaders suggests that the priest and scribes regarded their own trial as sufficient and were coming to Pilate merely to secure a formal signature to affect the execution. They are saying, “You should accept the judgment that He is worthy of death merely because we say so.”
Now on the other hand there may be more to it than this. As we saw in my last sermon we can hardly suppose that the Jewish Sanhedrin launched into the trial at this relatively late hour on Passover night without some understanding with Pilate that he would hear the case and concur in their verdict early on this particular morning.
It is clear that the Jews expected a perfunctory endorsement of the verdict already arrived at by their own court and when Pilate surprised them, by apparently intending to open the case anew and conduct a formal hearing, they were temporally caught off guard and replied with the evasion that I read to you.
Pilot said that if they were unwilling to make a formal accusation, they obviously did not heed him and therefore should prosecute the case according to their own laws, the Jewish laws, and inflict whatever penalties they were legally entitled to impose. But that was not good enough for those Jewish leaders; they wanted Him dead and nothing less.
It is possible that at this point Pilate did not understand that the Jews were seeking the death penalty in Jesus' case. It is far more likely that he understood this all too well and was speaking as he did merely to remind the priests that they were under the rule of Rome and would have to conform to Rome's rules, if they wished to have Christ executed.
Now here in Acts 25 we see in a later incident involving the Apostle Peter. This same principal is stated.
Acts 25:13-16 And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix,about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him.To them I answered [here he is stating Roman law], ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him
The unanticipated stubbornness of Pilate clearly thwarted the Jews and their scheming, but they were resourceful and therefore produced an accusation on the spur of the moment. John does not record it; he instead passes to the heart of the accusation and Pilate's examination of Jesus on this point.
Luke gives the accusation in full, and it has three parts.
Luke 23:2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”
So John does not record this; Luke does, here. This is not the crime of which Jesus had been convicted of in their own Jewish court. In the passage from the Sanhedrin to the Praetorium, the indictment had completely changed. Jesus had not been condemned on any of the charges recorded in Luke; he had been convicted on the charge of blasphemy, but before Pilate, He is now charged with high treason. So the question is why?
Blasphemy was not an offense against Roman law. The Roman judges would generally ignore such charges, but the Jews understood perfectly well at the trial before Pilate, the principal of Roman procedure expressed a few years later by Gallio, proconsul of Achaia and brother of Seneca: “If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O you Jews reason would that I should bear with you, but if it be a question of words and names and of your law, look you to it for I will be no judge of such matters.”
This gives us an idea of what the thought of the Roman leaders was as far as carrying out such trials. This attitude of Roman governors toward offenses of a religious nature perfectly explains the Jewish change in the matter of the accusation against Jesus. They merely wanted to get themselves into a Roman court on charges a Roman judge would consent to try.
In the three-fold accusation recorded by Luke, they fully accomplished this result. The first charge was that Jesus was perverting the nation. This was indefinite. Had Pilate taken it seriously, it would have to be supported by specific examples of sedition; still it was a real offense. It was in fact the precise charge that the Jewish court had tried to prove against Jesus in reference to His claim to be able to tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. The Jews had been unable to prove this in their court because of the contradictory testimony of their witnesses.
Now the second charge was also serious; in fact, it was more serious than the first in that it was a specific treasonable act under Roman law governing a captive state. Judea certainly was in captivity to Rome. The only problem with this charge was that it was clearly false.
In an earlier occasion, the nation’s leaders had attempted to trap Jesus on this very issue, but He had acquitted Himself admirably; they had come to Him with a trick question.
Matthew 22:17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
That was the question posed to Jesus. Now they reasoned if He said yes they would denounce Him to the people saying, “What kind of Messiah is this who counsels abject subservience to Rome?” On the other hand if He replied “no,” they would denounce Him to Rome saying, “You have an insurrectionist on your hands.” You can see the cleverness of those humanly reasoned decisions by those Jewish leaders. But what did Christ answer? He asked for a coin and demanded of His questioners in Matthew 22:20:
Matthew 22:20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [In this charge the leaders were therefore guilty of the most flagrant and malicious lies.] When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.
If any of us are ever in front of any judges or court for our religious beliefs or for any other false accusation, we can take comfort in the fact that we have the mind of God in us through the Holy Spirit, and just as Christ was able to answer properly and correctly, we have a guarantee that God will also give those answers to us as well. So we can be thankful and encouraged by such a thing and not worry about something like that happening to us, because if it does, God will give us the words that we need to speak.
The third charge was the greatest and most serious of the three. Jesus had claimed to be Christ, a King. It was serious because it was true; and it was also serious because it was the claim about which Rome was most sensitive and against which she was most on her guard against. When Pilate heard this charge, he gathered his robes about him, motioned for Jesus to follow him, and made his way back into the palace, which John alone records, and began the examination, the second part of every Roman trial. Not content with receiving the formal accusation alone, Pilate now sought to determine whether the charges against Jesus were true.
Each of the gospel writers records the question in which Pilate began his interrogation. It is simply: “Are you the king of the Jews?” With this question Pilate, it appears, impatiently brushed aside the two lesser charges as unworthy of serious consideration and proceeded at once to examine Jesus on that charge, which, if true, would unmistakably brand Him Caesar’s enemy.
John 18:33-34 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” [John records Christ's full reply here in verse 34] Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”
That is one thing we find in Jesus' comments, and when He was accused, all the way through His life and through His ministry, He would come back with a question and stump those asking Him. Because any answer they would give would condemn themselves. It amazes me how often that happened throughout His ministry.
Jesus' answer seems like an evasion, but actually Jesus' reply is right to the point. Because having heard the charge, first from the lips of the Jews and now from Pilate himself, Jesus wants to know first of all in what sense the question is being put to Him. What was the nature of the charge?
If the question were being asked from a Roman point of view, one answer would be given, because Jesus was not a king from Rome's perspective. On the other hand if the question were being asked form a Jewish perspective, another answer would be given because Jesus was the Jew's Messiah. Pilate's reply, while abrupt, is nevertheless also directly to the point at this stage in the examination.
John 18:35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
Now this means, “I am no Jew. I ask my question as a Roman administrator, and as such purely religious questions have no interest for me. What I want to know is: what have you done that might affect the sovereignty of Cesar?”
Now at this point, although the interrogation continues, Jesus begins His defense by introducing what, in the modern law, would be called a plea of confession and avoidance in today's technical terms. This is a plea which admits either in words or affect the truth of the accusation but which, nevertheless, introduces some new matter to avoid the guilt which would normally follow.
For example, we may imagine a case in which a man is on trial for murder. The judge asks, “Did you shoot and kill John Smith on the date in question?” And the defendant might answer, “Yes, I did your honor, but you should know that I discovered him in my dining room near an open window trying to steal my silver chest, and when I discovered him he came at me with a knife. My plea is justified homicide and self-defense.”
Here, the defendant admits to the killing but pleads extenuating circumstances. Now this murder is not related to Jesus Christ at all, but it is an example. In the same way, Jesus now admits to the charge of having claimed to be a King, but describes his kingship in such a way that it is seen to be no threat to the legitimate claims of Caesar. Jesus first explains the nature of His Kingdom negatively here in verse 36.
John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
We do not know if Pilate understood what Jesus was saying in this reply, but one phrase immediately caught his attention, “My Kingdom.” Jesus seemed to be saying that this was not an earthly kingdom, but Pilate could take no chances on this crucial issue.
John 18:37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” [So this time Jesus replies to the question with a positive affirmative.] Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
So Jesus' defense has two parts. One is a negative definition of His Kingdom; it is not of this world. The proof is that His disciples did not fight to prevent His arrest by the Jewish authorities. The other is a positive definition of His Kingdom. It is of the truth; it is a kingdom ruling over people's minds and aspirations. It is a spiritual Kingdom—one not of this world. Pilate could not fully appreciate this instruction.
John 18:38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.
Then he turned away convinced at last that whatever Jesus' peculiar ideas, He was certainly no worse than any other religious fanatic, at least from Rome's point of view. He was perfectly innocent of any capital offenses.
The last phase of the Roman trial followed immediately upon Pilate's examination of Jesus and His defense. In verse 38, John tells us that having concluded this examination, He, Pilate, went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.” Standing alone, these phrases indicate the close of the trial and mark it as being an official court proceeding.
Pilate tried and acquitted Jesus, so why then did he not release Him, or, if need be, place Him in protective custody as a later Roman ruler did twice with the Apostle Paul when his life was threatened? We are going to read both of these incidents. Remember this is concerning apostle Paul:
Act 21:31-33 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.
Now turn over to Acts 23:12-24
Acts 23:12-24 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy.They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul.Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.”So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.”Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?”And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him.But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.” And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; [wow, was he going to protect Paul or not! Forty against how many hundreds?] and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.”
Getting back to Pilate's examination of Jesus, we ask the question that Christians have asked concerning Pontius Pilot for nearly 2000 years. Since Pilate had tried and acquitted Jesus, why then did he not release Him or place Him in protective custody?
Pilate was guilty of nothing up to this point; in fact he had conducted the trial with precision and wisdom. He had reached the right verdict but now, in spite of his responsibility as a Roman governor and Judge, the high example of many thousands of Roman administers before him and the power of allegiance in Palestine, he failed to do the right thing by immediately setting Christ free. The mood of the crowd pressured him, and then he settled down in to a serious of irregular and illegal proceedings that eventually ended in the prisoner’s execution. Pilate was a self-seeking coward, and this is why he failed to do the right thing in this situation.
What does this mean? It means that in the true eternal issues of the case, it is Pilate who was judged by Christ and found guilty. In a very important sense, it is Pilate who was being judged by Christ. In the former, Jesus was tried and found innocent and rightly so, and in the latter, Pilate was tried and found guilty.
So as everyone who stands before Christ, He is the only perfect person who ever lived. His standard of righteousness for us is perfection; we all fall short of this standard. So as the Days of Unleavened Bread teach us, we must be humble so that we can understand the truth, so that we can keep the commandments properly, so that we can properly love one another.
Romans 3:10-12 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
Now prior to our conversion, we should have been condemned, but thanks to Jesus Christ with His sacrifice, His blood shed for us, He took that guilt upon Himself. He died to bear the punishment for our sin and thereby free us from God's righteous judgment. Now let us go back to John 18 if you will.
We realize that being human we still sin occasionally; it is not a way of life for us anymore, but we still fail and fall in that way. That is why we have the Days of Unleavened Bread; it is sanctification, a process of conversion to go through and remind us that we must overcome our sins.
Thankfully if you are a citizen of Heaven, having accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior, having totally submitted to God's sovereignty, the penalty for your previously sinful way of life has been paid by the blood of Christ. Do not waste this wonderful privilege of being in God's church. We are going to read John 18:36-37 again.
John 18:36-37 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
So we see that there are several things we can learn from this, one of which is how important truth is, but the world does not understand what the truth is.
In the first of his two great letters to Timothy, the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Christ made the “good confession.” Now what is the “good confession?” Certainty Christ was making a good confession in front of Pilate and in front of the Sanhedrin. Now in I Timothy 6:13 Paul writes to Timothy:
I Timothy 6:13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate,
That “good confession” is not found in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke. Only John records it because they contain only a five word response from Jesus. When Jesus was asked if He were the King of the Jews, they reported Him as answering, “It is as you say,” after which He said nothing; that is according to Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is only in John that the “good confession” of Jesus before Pilate is reported to us fully.
Now John's record teaches us what a good confession is. This confession is good in terms of the way in which it is given. It was not rude; it was not brusque, condescending, or veiled in mysteries as our confessions sometimes are. It was simple, kind, direct, and helpful. Though Christ was soon to be condemned by Pilate, He did not despise him, but rather treated him with the respect due because of his office.
Again, the confession of Jesus was good as to its substance because, here, before one who was rightly concerned with earthly sovereignty, Christ spoke of divine versus human affairs and of God's sovereignty. This teaches us how we should speak of spiritual things and what we should say.
The second reason why we should be glad that John has included these words is that they contain a definition of the nature of Christ's Kingdom in the very words of Jesus and at a most important moment. Those who have studied the meaning of the Kingdom of God in Old and New Testaments know that this can be a fairly complex subject; it can have multiple meanings. The reason is that the phrase is used in so many different ways. Sometimes it seems to refer in an abstract way to the reign or rule of God; and at other times, it refers to the coming future role of Christ and God upon earth.
In one key text, Luke 17:21, the parallel is added to that. The Kingdom of God is said to be among you or in the midst of this world and in the person of Christ and His disciples as its representatives. Now in another series of passages, the Kingdom is something into which men and women enter.
The jumping off point for Christ's definition of His Kingdom is with the confession that He is indeed a King. Whatever physical appearances may be to the contrary, He did not look like a King, He was bound and beaten, bloodied, and weak.
Luke 22:63-65 Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?”And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.
So He was to be beaten further still, yet no king seated upon a throne at the pinnacle of world power was more entitled to be called a king than He. This fact is important because what is true of the King is no less true of His Kingdom. To this day Christianity and its outward appearances is an equally “unattractive” thing and is not honored and acclaimed by the world.
People look at the Church of God, and they are not impressed one bit. They think, “How can that be God's church; it has the weak of the world in it?” and more descriptions that are not favorable. It is not attractive, and when people see it they do not desire it. True, there is a mainstream professing Christianity that is accepted and approved of by many people in the world, but the truth and Word of God is still despised and rejected by them as they put forth their traditions as a priority over God's truth.
The real Jesus Christ today amongst society is unknown, unrecognized as much as He was among His own nation almost 2000 years ago. His Kingdom's members appear the same.
I Corinthians 1:26-31 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,that no flesh should glory in His presence.But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
We have no right to be proud of ourselves especially not in a wrong way. Members of God's church are to be humble, they are to be of a contrite heart, they never tell you how humble they are, they are not oozing pride and telling you what they have done for others, nor do they tell you how loving they are.
I Corinthians 13:4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
What we are trying to do during the days of unleavened bread is to remove sin out of our lives, and pride is the root of puffed up sin. Do we reflect our humble righteous King who is despised by the world or do we strive to be attractive and impressive and to be accepted by the world? That is something that only you can answer with the help of God.
To Pilate, Jesus says His Kingdom is not of this world. That says a great deal in and of itself and also by implication. So far is the statement itself is concerned; it is Christ's denial of the importance of those things that usually concern earthly leaders.
This world’s leaders are concerned with pomp, ceremony, prestige, privileges, acclaim, and wealth. Not so with Christ. The charge in which Jesus was arraigned was that of laying claim to the office of a king. In John 18:36-37, Jesus admits that He did claim to be a king, but not in the sense which the Jews understood it. They charged Him with attempting to set up an earthly kingdom and stirring up sedition against Caesar.
In reply to this, Jesus says that His Kingdom is not of this world; it is not of the same nature as earthly kingdoms; it does not exist for the same purpose, nor is it conducted on the same foundation of law. Jesus immediately adds a circumstance in which they differ. The kingdoms of this world are physically defended by armies and engage in wars for purely selfish and prideful purposes. If the Kingdom of God and Christ had been of this kind, He would have stirred up the multitudes that followed Him and prepared for battle.
There is a battle we fight every day, but it is a spiritual battle against spiritual enemies, and we fight this battle with Christ. Jesus would have armed the masses that flocked to Him in Jerusalem. He would not have been alone and unarmed in the garden of Gethsemane if His battle was secular. And when we say that Christ's kingdom is not of this world, we are really saying that Christ's Kingdom is of a spiritual version and built on a foundation of truth. You will not find another kingdom out there anywhere in the world that is founded on truth; it is just the opposite.
Therefore God's Kingdom has an even greater claim over us then do the earthly kingdoms of Satan and man. We are citizens of Heaven first and foremost. We heard the same thing in Ronny's sermonette. Another point Jesus made about His Kingdom is that it is not entered into by secular means. The heavenly Kingdom and earthly kingdom overlap at some points, since the same person may be in both, but the Christian may not be ‘of’ the world.
They are different kingdoms, and they are entered differently; citizens of God's Kingdom do not think and do as the world does. There is no median lines because the spirit that motivates each is different, and this is why we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers—in business, in dating, or in marriage. Jesus spells this out in two ways. In one of the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, He indicated the manner in which we must enter.
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Now this does not mean blessed are the poor spirited or blessed are failures. To be poor in spirit is the opposite of being rich in pride. Poor in spirit means to be humbled, and the humble are known for their fear and reverence of the Lord and their right living.
Proverbs 22:4 By humility and the fear of the Lord are [spiritual riches] riches and honor and life.
False humility comes from the ungodly who have no place in heaven.
Colossians 2:18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has notseen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. [So a person who is leavened by false humility is cheating himself of his spiritual reward.].
Colossians 2:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
So Christ's first requirement for entering His Kingdom is to genuinely humble ourselves and take up the position of a submissive, reverent child before Him. Humility reflects Godly character.
Now, in His words before Pilate, Jesus shows that this also has a positive dimension in the area of our response to His truth. Ironically Pilate, the one charged with determining the truth in the matter, glibly dismisses the relevance of truth in the very presence of the one who IS truth incarnate. Humility opens the way so the truth may be received and understood and applied.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word [of truth] that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
So humility is a prerequisite, but it does not produce salvation in and of itself. We must respond to that truth that Jesus came to earth to communicate. We must live by every word of truth that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.