A Bible Lesson on John 18:28-40

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 short lesson on John’s account of the trial of Jesus before Pilate.

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.

There is awful irony here.  The officials have illegally and unjustly decided on Jesus’s condemnation.  Yet here they are scrupulously keeping the finest details of the Sabbath/Passover law.  They’re in the midst of the most awful thing they could possibly be doing and they’re worrying about ritual defilement.  This is completely absurd.  Ryle quoting Poole here said, “Nothing is more common than for persons overzealous about rituals to be remiss about morals.”  In any case, they come to Pilate.

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

There is a reasonable amount known about Pilate from secular historians.  He ruled Judea from AD 26 through AD 36.  The historian Philo tells about his robbery, murder and inhumanity.  Josephus tells of his blunders of government and atrocities.  In Luke 13:1 we can read of a slaughter of Galileans that was his doing.

Pilate says, “What accusation”/charges?”  This seems like a formal/legal proceeding though it is illegal.

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

This has an arrogant tone about it.  They didn’t like this man and were on the edge of insulting him and his authority.

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.” 

Roman occupation forces upheld local law, but reserved the right of capital punishment.  Implicit here is the idea that the Jews are going to ask for death on grounds that Pilate will recognize as a capital offense.  They’re going to charge political insurrection.  Pilate, for his part, is afraid to cross the mob and would like to avoid the case.  He’s smart enough to know that there was no chance that they’d be clamoring for the death of one whose plan was to throw off Roman rule.

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

If the Jews had executed Jesus, it would have been by stoning.  Jesus has said it would be otherwise.

John 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 

33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

John is speaking in sync with Jesus’s own words.

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 a political rebel?  The title that Pilate uses, “King of the Jews,” is a title used by the last truly independent rulers (the Hasmonean priest/kings) before the arrival of the Romans in Palestine.

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

There is a double meaning here.  As Pilate is thinking, the title “king” means political rebel.  Prophetically it means “messianic king.”  Jesus is  not asking this question to gain information.  He’s asking to force Pilate to consider the shameful injustice of this whole situation.  It’s the same kind of question as “Adam, where are you?” in the garden.

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 disavows any firsthand knowledge of what’s gone on.  Instead he asks “What have you done?” claiming that this will answer the question whether Jesus is a threat to Roman rule.

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.” 

Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate directly.  Rather, he begins to explain to Pilate the nature of His kingship.  He says plainly that His kingdom is not a temporal one supported by armies and taxes and the trappings of earthly power.  It is a real kingship, in fact the most real kingship, for sure … but not the kind of kingship that Pilate should worry about as a political threat.  Pilate doesn’t pay attention.

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.” 

Pilate says “So you are a king and therefore a political threat” … Jesus says “No, listen.  I’m not a politician.  I’m here to testify about Truth .  I AM the Truth.”  There is an implicit challenge to Pilate in what Jesus says to respond to that Truth.  Pilate wants to reduce all to politics and power here and now.  Jesus won’t let him do that.

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 is impatient and is turning from the Truth.  The big questions of life are not really of interest to him.  He dismisses them as of no account.  He breaks off the conversation, uninterested in any answer to his question.  Compare what Proverbs has to say about Wisdom.

Proverbs 2:4  if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,

5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

Pilate is instead a “practical” man.  He tries to remain neutral between Jesus/the Truth and the world/the Jewish accusers.  He looks for an easy way out.  He’d like there to be some middle ground.

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?” 

In Pilate’s mind, the plan here is that everyone gets what he wants.  He declares Jesus guilty and worthy of death.  That makes the Jews happy.  Then they turn around and choose to have Him released and Pilate doesn’t have His blood on his hands.  Everyone goes home happy … crooked, but happy.  But the knot-headed Jews won’t play ball.

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

This is terribly ironic.  The Jews have presented Jesus (who is morally innocent) as a political rebel (which they know He is not).  They end up asking for the release of a real political rebel who is morally guilty of murder and under no interpretation of their won Jewish law should be released.  Pilate, by his trying to remain neutral, ends up doing something contrary to his own interests, releasing a real threat to Roman rule.  When we set out to suppress the Truth, the consequences are always insane.  And this is turning crazy.

It is also a picture of the substitution of Christ for all of us.  We all stand in the place of Barabbas, genuinely guilty and worthy of death.  And Christ died the death we ought to have died.

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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