A Bible Lesson on John 18:28-19:37

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a re-post of a lesson first posted in March 2015.

The fundamental problem of the Bible is this: God is absolutely holy and perfect. Human beings are fallen, rebellious, and broken. By nature and choice we are sinful, unfit for His presence. How then, does a holy God maintain His perfection and holiness, and yet have mercy on such as you and me? If He ignores our sin, if He just looks the other way, He’s not just. But if He is just, it seems like we’re hopelessly undone. In this text we’re given the astonishing, awful, wonderful Gospel answer to this completely impossible problem. God, Himself, in the person of Christ Jesus bears the crushing weight of just punishment for sedition and blasphemy against Himself, and in that He gives us life.

In these verses and events we are at the very center of the Bible message. They are profound and deep, and are to be approached carefully, reverently, in holy awe. We have here a telling of the circumstances of the Death of the King of Glory.

John 18:28 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.

John 18:29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”

John 18:30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”

John 18:31 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 18:32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus is brought to Pilate and the stated charge is “doing evil.” In the illegal show trial before the high priest and the Jewish council recorded by both Matthew and Luke, the charge was blasphemy. The accusation brought against Jesus there concerned His claim to be God’s Son. That is a true piece of evidence. And if the facts don’t match the claim, then blasphemy is a right description of His claim. But His accusers know that correct or not, such a charge won’t get Him killed by the Roman authorities. They’ve got to make one that will work in a Roman civil court. In verse 30, it sounds like they are a bit vague, maybe fishing for what will work. But listen to what Pilate hears.

John 18:33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Are you the King? Indeed He is THE KING. Handel got this right in his composing of “Messiah.” He’s the King of Glory. He’s the One of whom Psalm 24 speaks when it says

Psalm 24:7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!

Psalm 24:9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

He, Jesus, is the promised Son of king David. He IS the promised eternal King. Of course, that is not what the accusers are insinuating. They are recasting their charge of blasphemy as a false charge of civil sedition. As far as Pilate is concerned, the Jews can have their silly religious disputes, as long as there is civil order. But the accusers make Jesus out to be a political figure, a threat to Roman rule.

John 18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”

John 18:35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”

Pilate is no Jew. And he has no evidence that Jesus is a political subversive. There was that strange parade into the city a few days ago, on Palm Sunday, but Pilate has no basis to know that Jesus was consciously fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And even if Pilate had understood what Jesus was doing, it was no political threat to Roman authority.

Jesus makes a complete answer to Pilate. Yes, He is THE KING. No, He is not guilty of sedition. He says:

John 18:36 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.”

John 18:37 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.”

John 18:38 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.

Pilate renders an honest verdict on the sedition charge, and in the process speaks prophetically about Jesus. Indeed, there is absolutely NO guilt in Him. Here is the great righteous eternal King judged honestly and found innocent FOR HIMSELF. This is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

John 18:39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”

John 18:40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

The truth regarding Jesus is “not guilty on all charges” (both the blasphemy charge because He really IS God’s Son, and the trumped up civil sedition charge). But fallen humanity doesn’t want a righteous King. In our reprobate state, we don’t want to be ruled by a holy God. We’d rather pretend that we are gods and kings. That’s been the case since Genesis 3. So the cry is not for justice, but for injustice. Spare the unrepentant guilty rebel in the place of the Righteous One.

John 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.

John 19:2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe.

John 19:3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

John 19:4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”

Maybe Pilate can appease the accusers by abusing and humiliating One he knows to be completely innocent. He doesn’t understand Jesus to be God, but he does know Him to be “not guilty.” So Pilate looks for a miserable human compromise that will abuse the truth but perhaps save him from the personal guilt of killing the Innocent.

John 19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

Behold THE MAN. Hear Pilate. He doesn’t really understand what he’s said, but we should. This is the perfect man, the second Adam. Here standing in “the dock” (in the defendant’s box) is the Son of God who is the Son of Man. The apparent defendant here is in Himself innocent of both blasphemy and sedition. But He’s not here for Himself, He’s here for humanity. He’s here for you and for me. He is personally NOT guilty of blasphemy against God nor rebellion against Caesar. BUT … you and I, in whose place He stands, certainly ARE guilty of both blasphemy and sedition against our Creator, the great I AM, the Alpha and Omega. “Behold THE MAN,” says Pilate.

John 19:6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

John 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Christ’s accusers pronounce their own verdict. They aren’t going to be satisfied with a little abuse and humiliation. They want this One, who has plainly claimed to be the Son of God, gone.

John 19:8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.

John 19:9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

Earlier, so that Pilate would know the truth in the case against Him personally, Jesus answered. He personally was innocent. But we are not, and as our representative He is not, and He doesn’t contest the proceedings. He doesn’t seek release. Isaiah prophesied

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Jesus doesn’t demand justice for Himself, because He’s not here on His own behalf! He’s here in your place and mine, and He is receiving the just verdict regarding our sedition and rebellion against the I AM. Believers, there’s no defense that could or should be made on our account, and He’s silent. Of course.

John 19:10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”

John 19:11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

Pilate presumes he’s in control. But neither he nor the accusers are in charge. They are there in the providence of God. Isaiah was told hundreds of years before

Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring;

It was the will of the LORD to crush Him. This is in not in the hands of humanity.

John 19:12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

The accusers apply the pressure of position and self-interest, implicitly threatening to report Pilate to Rome.

John 19:13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.

Pilate’s earlier judgment was spoken more or less in private. Now he takes the official judgment seat. This is an elevated stone platform, out in the open, where verdict and sentence will be pronounced.

John 19:14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

“Behold your King.” In verse 5 Pilate correctly said, “Behold the MAN.” Now he correctly says, “Behold your King.” Before him is our representative who is also THE KING of glory. We must understand that in truth, it’s not Jesus who is on trial here. Pilate has already pronounced Jesus personally innocent. It is us in the person of His accusers on trial. It is fallen humanity whose guilt is about to be definitively established.

John 19:15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Our blood should run cold here. Listen to the self-condemnation of fallen humanity, the confession in open court! “We have no King but Caesar.” Except God grant faith and repentance, we will not be ruled by the real King. We’ll instead have one we make up. We’ll captain our own ship. Listen carefully. This is real sedition. This is real blasphemy. Human beings will reject the real King, who is also the real Man. Instead we’ll take Caesar to rule over us. We’ll put ourselves in the place of the King of Glory. Pilate, acting in official capacity, lets them have their chosen self-judgment. He doesn’t have to utter the verdict. Christ is going to be killed and bear the punishment, but the real guilt and real judgment is on rebellious seditious blasphemous humanity. And while Pilate allows it, the confession and implied judgment is spoken by the chief priests. Pilate doesn’t need to say who is “guilty.” It comes from the lips of the priests. Humanity is, by its own declaration, guilty.

But now, the awesome and wondrous central surprise that is going to unfold here is that the just punishment that rightly accompanies the judgment is not to be suffered by the guilty, but by the Innocent, by our righteous King.

John 19:16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,

John 19:17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.

“He went out,” outside the city. It was against Jewish law to conduct an execution inside the city. And the Old Testament sin offering on the Day of Atonement was carried out “outside the camp.” (See Leviticus 16:27.) Jesus, the real and permanent sin offering for all repentant humanity, is taken outside the city. He is likely bearing the cross piece, and in this act fulfilling the Old Testament type/shadow of Isaac carrying the wood upon which Abraham had been commanded to sacrifice him.

John 19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Fulfilling the words of Isaiah:

Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

John 19:19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

John 19:20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.

It was standard to put a sign above a criminal’s head or around his neck giving the charge against him, and the official charge against Jesus was political sedition. Ironically, the false charge provides a true declaration of His identity. It’s written in 3 different languages, for all to read. This Jesus is King of the Jews. He is the King of Glory.

John 19:21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ”

John 19:22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

John 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,

When they had crucified Jesus … Notice what John does and doesn’t emphasize. Crucifixion was a horrible, shameful, cruel death reserved for the worst of offenders. But the Gospels are purposely short on gory details. Their intent is not to evoke our sympathy for Jesus, but rather to show us who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf.

It is fair to see here that Jesus is no stranger to our pain and misery. But the deep horror of this scene isn’t the brutality of the death. Many humans suffer awful deaths, including two others crucified this day. The central point here, the horror, is the wrath of the Father and separation from Him poured out on the Son, rather than on you and me, as He willingly bears the guilt of our sin.

John 19:24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,

John 19:25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

John 19:26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”

John 19:27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

John 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”

“All” was now finished. Everything that the Father had given Him to do is finished. And in fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus, the only source of living water is thirsty.

Psalm 22:15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

John 19:29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

Psalm 69:21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.

Hyssop had a prominent place in the Old Testament, where it was closely connected to atonement for sin.

Psalm 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

In Exodus 12:22 hyssop was prescribed for spreading the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts. In Numbers 19 it was prescribed for sprinkling the blood of the red heifer sacrificed outside the Israelite camp for the purification from sin. Here it figures in the substitutionary death of the King of Glory.

John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

IT is finished. All that the Father had given Him to do is complete. The great work of redemption/your salvation and mine, the perfect keeping of the Law, all of the Old Testament prophecies, all of the types of the Old Testament ceremonies, all of His sufferings, all of IT is finished.

Jesus “gave up his spirit.” Make no mistake, this is a very unusual description of death. You and I don’t “yield up our spirits.” But this is the Son of God and HE is in control of all this.

John 19:31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.

The legs are broken to hasten death. In accord with Deuteronomy 21:22-23, the bodies were to be taken down before nightfall.

John 19:32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.

John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

What the soldier intends here isn’t completely obvious. Perhaps he’s prodding Jesus to verify that He’s dead, and in this we know that Jesus really died dead. This was no swoon. But what is most important is the sign that comes through this action. This sign points back to the promise that Jesus would give the Spirit.

John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

John 7:39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

There is living water flowing from Jesus. This is the fulfillment of the Exodus 17:6 picture of Moses striking the rock and water pouring forth. The event fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah:

Zechariah 13:1 On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

Jesus Himself has opened the fountain of water that cleanses from sin and uncleanness.

John 19:35 He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.

This is important. In 1st John, John writes:

1John 5:6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

1John 5:7 For there are three that testify:

1John 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

There’s water and blood. Water is associated in Scripture with the Holy Spirit, with cleansing, and with life. Blood is associated with atonement and forgiveness, and the sacrificial death of a substitute to secure them. In the crucifixion these come together. There is water and blood. In death for our sedition and blasphemy, our great King brought cleansing, life, the Spirit, and full atonement. Those are not separate matters. Indeed, you cannot separate them. There is no real life without provision for sin. And both are aspects of His cross.

John emphasizes that this Jesus is the real sacrificial Passover Lamb and the righteous Man.

John 19:36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”

Speaking of the Passover Lamb, Exodus 12 says:

Exodus 12:46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.

And speaking of the Righteous Man that the LORD watches over, David prophesies:

Psalm 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Psalm 34:20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

John 19:37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

This is a loose quotation from Zechariah 12:10.

Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

Zechariah sees God pierced by the apostasy of Israel, and the people mourning over what they have done, pleading for mercy, and somehow being moved by a spirit of grace. Jesus, God’s Son, has been pierced by the sin of all humanity. We ought to see the cross, mourn the enormity of our sin, plead for mercy, and rejoice in the grace of our relief.

In the death of the Innocent King of Glory, the real guilt of human rebellion/blasphemy/treason against God was judged. As our substitute, Jesus, bore its horrible just punishment. In that act, He provided life, cleansing/justification, atonement, and the Holy Spirit for all who will repent and believe. This is the center of our faith, Christian believers.

Thanks be to our great, glorious, and merciful King. Amen!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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