Friday, August 30, 2013
John begins in chapter 19 of his gospel in verse 16 saying … “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.” Pilate had finally given up his efforts to spare the innocent blood of Christ, and had acquiesced to the fervor of the religious zealots who demanded Christ be killed through the power of the state. From a human perspective, all hope was gone for Christ. The hate of the Pharisees, combined with the muscle of Roman power, was a combination that no man could overcome. But therein lies the irony. This was no ordinary man. Christ, with the power of His divinity, could have at any time removed himself from this situation. He had done so on every occasion where the people intended to make Him their earthly King. But while He exercised divine power to escape fame and earthly glory, He used none of it to escape His own torture and death. He chose to submit through each agonizing moment, all the way to His death. It is why He had said that no man takes His life, that He alone must lay it down. All the power of hate and Rome was nothing against His own will, should He have willed it, He could have stopped the process in an instant. But He did not.
John continues in verse 17 … “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: [verse 18] Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” No sense in wasting an execution, Pilate determined to go ahead and execute two other captured criminals with Christ. In yet another Roman expression of efficiency, the criminals were to carry the heavy load of the instrument of torture they were to be put to death upon. They carried their own crosses (though we know this burden at some point in the journey became too much for Christ, and another was tasked to help Him with it). Crucifixion was not the same as beheading, or a bullet to the head, or a mortal wound from a sword or spear. It was intended to be a slow death. The victim must hold themselves up in order to keep breathing properly. When the muscles in their legs finally give out, they become unable to breathe, and die of asphyxiation. Their last ounce of strength would be spent trying to stay alive for just one more moment, with a knowledge that at some point, they would lose strength and die. Christ had already exhausted Himself, in the beating He had taken that nearly had Him bleed out. He had been mocked, spat upon, lost more blood from the crown of thorns placed in His head, and again exhausted from trying to carry His own cross. He would not last long.
Pilate however, had one parting shot at those religious zealots who had refused to listen to reason. Pilate knew that the Jews believed their Messiah was to be their king. So John records in verse 19 … “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. [verse 20] This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. [verse 21] Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. [verse 22] Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.” Pilate did believe Jesus was indeed the Messiah of the Jewish prophecy, his brief encounter with Truth taught him that. So, Pilate gave to Christ the title the common belief in that prophecy warranted. In effect, Pilate was saying to the Jews, whether you see it or not, you have asked me to crucify your only hope. And Pilate remained firm in keeping this title posted in every common language, near to Jerusalem during a Passover, a year of Jubilee, and a time when every worshipper would be heading into the city. This was something the Pharisees could not stand, but were forced to endure.
Modern artistic renderings of Christ always show Him clothed during this final torturous death. It is hard enough for us to bear that He died in our place, but to add the humiliation of seeing our God on earth naked, and exposed for all to see, for His enemies to further mock, is too much for most artists to represent. But scripture tells us in verse 23 … “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. [verse 24] They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.” His clothing was divided among the soldiers (spoils of war), and He would have no further need of it. His robe however, was decided by dice as it was a garment woven without seam. Even in the details of their greed, scriptural prophecy was fulfilled. The Pharisees were present during these events. They knew the prophecies. They had spent their lives debating the scriptures and their meaning. These events were not lost on them, but they simply did not choose to care, or to truly see their own error and repent.
In another act of cruelty, the Romans freely permitted the women related to the victims of crucifixion to attend these events. The women who loved these victims would openly grieve for them, pleading for mercy which would not come. The victims seeing the pain of their loved ones, would struggle harder to survive, thus extending the torture of their own inevitable death. All of this spectacle only added to the pain and torture for everyone concerned. The men who were friends of the victim would largely stay away, as they did not want to risk a confrontation with the attending soldiers, or risk being associated with the victim and perhaps find themselves the subject of further Roman prosecution in coming days. So no matter what the motivation may have been, the remainder of the disciples of Christ were not recorded as being present at His death. Perhaps they were there and unnoticed, or perhaps they had already fled to the upper room. In any case, John does record who had come in verse 25 … “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” Four women had come to grieve and spend what little time there was left, with the One who they had all come to love. I do not know, if the sister of the mother of Christ may have been the mother of John the Baptist or not, but at least Mary had some family present with her.
Death was now very near. Strength had given way to the exhaustion of human limits. For most of us, our thoughts would have been centered on living, on keeping alive just a bit longer. But even unto death, despite everything that has happened to Him, and all the pain He has personally endured. The thoughts of Christ are on the pain of those He loved. Instead of crying out for His own agony, He looks to address the concerns of His family. John records in verse 26 … “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! [verse 27] Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” Widows were the poorest of Jewish society, without a male to earn, and buy, and manage affairs, a woman could do little to preserve her own life. So Christ first thinks of us once again, and in so doing affirms that we are family by choice, as much or more, as we are family by blood. To His mother, He offers yet another son. To His most loved friend, He offers the care and love of yet another mother, His very own mother. To care for the widows, and orphans, is not just a lesson to be preached in the Temple, but to be lived by example, even at the point of death. Even at the door of death itself Christ is thinking about us, trying to care for us, looking out for our best interests. With all the divine power at His disposal, He does not make miracles to insure the wealth and ease of the life of His mother. Instead He asks John to love her and care for her. He asks Mary to treat John as her own son, and to love and care for Him. It is not miracles that are needed to make our lives filled with wealth and ease, it is only love. It is love that is truly important. It always was, it will always be.
Now there was only one more prophetic scripture to be fulfilled. John records in verse 28 … “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. [verse 29] Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. [verse 30] When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” Every prophecy of scripture regarding the true mission of the Messiah had been fulfilled. Christ had died. He had yielded up His own life. He had laid it down for us. He had died of a broken heart. But I do not believe we were the direct reason for His so great sadness. There was something else going on, something of far more significance, and caused Christ far more sadness. The burden of our sins were upon Him. As such, for the first time in His existence (which is without time and space to measure), He was forced to be separated from His Father. This separation constitutes the very definition of hell itself. To be pulled away from the source of love and life and be hidden from its view, was more than the heart of Christ could bear. Sin could not exist in the presence of God the Father. Therefore though He Himself was sinless, the weight of our sins that He carried, forced a separation between Himself and His Father. This was just too much for Him. This separation was more than even His own divine nature could endure. It would be this separation that would cause Him to yield up His own life, and see His heart broken because of it. This was the ultimate sacrifice on His part for us; to be willing to endure separation from His Father in order that we might not suffer that fate.
But there was even more at stake for Christ than the separation that was causing His eminent demise. What if, having been stained with the weight of our seemingly endless evil, He could no longer return to the presence of His Father? What if this separation was to be permanent? What if the sacrifice He was making was simply not enough to redeem mankind, or be removed from His being? He was not just risking a human life in the sacrifice of His life with taking on our sins. He was risking divine existence as the universe had come to know it. He was risking everything for us. He was giving up everything for us. The scale of His sacrifice was not to be measured in merely His mortal human existence, but in His divine eternal one as well. This was the question the atheists delight to ponder, could God create a rock so big He could not move it? But of more eternal significance, could Christ carry the sins of us all, and still return to the side of His Father, having once been stained with the evil of our species from time and memorial? This answer was not visible from the cross. Jesus would have to die first, and find out if it was enough later. His divinity could not answer this mystery before He experienced it. Thus everything was at risk for our God. And the pain of separation was that which would cause His own heart to break. And still He went forward with it. Still He submitted, and did the will of His Father, without a guarantee it could be undone, or overcome, only a faith that this is the road He must take, and the choice He must make … for us.
And while the fate of the universe itself hung in the balance, the Pharisees had larger concerns, they must insure that preparation for the religious rituals they were to perform would not be distracted by the death of Love and Life itself on a cross outside their city. These men firmly believed that holiness was achieved through their own actions, not through simple submission. As such they must “do” what they needed to do in order to be made “pure” before the day of rest and atonement. John records the height of hypocrisy in verse 31 … “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” The religious leadership of the only one true religion on planet earth, the one established by the Man hanging on the cross, was determined that their murder of their founder would not distract from the ceremonies they had been directed to perform. Thus they wished to accelerate the deaths of those hanging there, in order to wrap things up by Sabbath. Ironically there was not even need of this where Christ was concerned, He was already resting.
John records the events in verse 32 … “Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. [verse 33] But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: [verse 34] But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. [verse 35] And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. [verse 36] For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. [verse 37] And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.” Now even after He was dead, scriptural prophecy was still being fulfilled. But beyond this, a lethal spear wound was inflicted JUST to make SURE Christ was dead. It was already visibly evident. The darkness as nature refused to witness the death of her creator was unearthly and unprecedented. The thunder and earthquake that occurred when Christ had given up the ghost, which had woken some of the dead from Adam to Christ and would now bear witness of His divinity until His first ascension in three days, would rock Jerusalem to its core. And most interesting, the rip from top to bottom of the heavy curtains that separated the Most Holy place from the rest of the temple, allowing EVERYONE to stare straight at the Ark of the Covenant without death. All of these miraculous events testified at the death of Christ, of His divinity, of the magnitude of His sacrifice.
But skeptics are not convinced by the miraculous, only by the practical. So a mortal spear wound through the ribs of Christ would have to suffice for proof of death. After all, a Roman soldier knew how to kill if nothing else. They had plenty of practice at it. And there has never been any dispute that Christ was killed in these events. There has only ever been a dispute about whether He emerged from death. The proof that He died seems to have been sufficient for even the most die-hard atheist who examines this record. Indeed there seems to be ample evidence that He died. But as said in the beginning, the only way to prove a resurrection is to first prove a death has occurred …
Friday, August 9, 2013
This was a very unfortunate turn of events. It made no sense to Pilate. Why kill an innocent man, and let go a known criminal? Pilate must resort to a plan B now in order to avoid being responsible for the shedding of innocent blood. If there is hatred for Christ, perhaps Pilate can illicit pity for Him. So John continues the story in chapter 19 and verse one saying … “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.” This punishment was the worst the Roman Empire had invented short of death. A whip was used with broken shards of glass in the tips in order to rip flesh from the body on its return. 39 lashes were given, as 40 killed a man. Having endured this torture the victim would never be the same. But from Pilate’s point of view, at least He would be alive. The Jews would have sympathy and curb their anger having seen this Man so close to death, and enduring so much pain. Pilate could emerge guilt free as he was now simply picking the best of 2 bad options.
But the soldiers of Pilate had no philosophical idealism regarding truth. They were men of blood. They fought to live, and hated their enemies. To them, Christ must have been guilty of fomenting revolt or Pilate would have never had Him punished so violently. So the soldiers took it upon themselves to add to the punishment of their perceived enemy. John continues in verse 2 … “And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, [verse 3] And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.” This was not done at the direction of Pilate. Pilate was looking for a way out of this, not to simply be cruel. Had cruelty been his goal, he could have simply elected to see Christ die on the cross from moment number one. Though the acts of the soldiers would only lend credence to his plans now. He could display the broken abused body of Christ, the humiliation He had endured, and hope to gain sympathy from this accusing crowd.
John continues in verse 4 … “Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. [verse 5] Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” Normally this sight would have been enough to turn the stomachs of the average citizen. Only men of combat were used to seeing this much blood and pain. This was sure to illicit sympathy, what more could anyone demand where it comes to meeting out punishment? They responded in verse 6 … “When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.” The response of evil to seeing that much pain and blood, was a demand for more. Evil will never be satisfied until death is its result. The hunger for more is ever present. No amount of money, fame, glory, or gratification will ever satisfy the craving of evil, for evil must always demand more. Where love would look at Christ in pity, even Pilate looked at Christ with pity. Evil has no pity. The demand of these men keeping themselves pure to partake of the Passover was for death.
Pilate responds in the same verse, effectively saying, “fine” go do it yourselves then, because I will not condemn him. Pilate adds He has done nothing wrong, there is no fault in Him. Even under the duress of the worst punishment Rome could envision before death; Christ has done nothing from which to find fault. He has confessed no wrong doing, because He has done no wrongdoing. He is a truly innocent man. Pilate has never seen this before. Most of us have done something we are not proud of. When faced with nearly life ending torture and pain we are more likely to confess it, to get the pain to end. But Christ had no such option, because He had done nothing wrong. Pilate could simply not figure out why these men had it in for Christ. But the Jews began to enlighten him when they responded in verse 7 … “The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”
There it is; the reason behind the hatred. The pious Jews had found someone who they were not holier than. They did not want to accept that “this” was the embodiment of their God on earth. Pilate had been informed about the prophecies of the Messiah. He understood the idea of a God walking among men. His own Roman religions, based on those of the Greeks that preceded them, told stories of gods among men who carried with them great power. Jesus had just told Pilate that He was a king, but not a king of this world. Perhaps Jesus came from another world entirely. Perhaps Jesus was from Olympus, or Jupiter, or Mars. Now the miracles made sense. The Jews believed in only one God and they did not want Jesus to be it. But Pilate now saw how a diety might be a very real threat to the Jewish religion. However the worse threat was to Pilate. Could Pilate judge a real god?
John continues in verse 8 … “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; [verse 9] And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.” Pilate’s wife had a dream to avoid this man before him. In Roman culture dreams were valued. Pilate heard about all the miracles and now feared they were not stories, but in fact were true. What is worse, what if the Jews were essentially correct? What if this was the actual son of the only true God? He asks Jesus to say where He is from. But this time Jesus is silent. The silence is worse for Pilate. He sees He is uncovering truth. Jesus likely is a god, but what if He is the real God? Pilate attempts to assert power to get Christ to answer His questions. He already knows torture won’t work. Jesus has already been through more of that than any other prisoner he keeps. So He tries to use the lure of freedom to get Christ to respond saying in verse 10 … “Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” Pilate could still kill Him, but more to the goal of he wanted to do, he wanted to release Him.
Jesus responds to Pilate in verse 11 … “Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” He does not deny He is a God. What if Jesus is the God of Truth? What if that is His special power? Jesus recognizes that power comes from God above, and so tells Pilate that he is where he is, because of the power of God. Pilate now sees that his own life is a result of the plans of God, the blessings of God. Now stands before him, the God of Truth. This is an injustice. This is no longer a question about guilt or innocence. This has become a quest to see the injustice ended. Truth must be set free. Truth must be restored to the world. Pilate has abandoned completely his role as judge and now seeks to become the advocate for Christ. He wants to be His defense attorney. He wants to see Christ set free. He now seeks every political favor, he employs every ability he has, to see Christ released. He does not want the God of Truth to be killed by his own edict. Taxes are just not that important. It is likely then when he sends Christ to Herod to see if perhaps Herod will free Him. John does not record this series of events in his gospel, but the mission of Pilot to set Christ free John does record.
John states Pilate’s intent in verse 12 … “And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” Something was horribly wrong. These people hated Caesar. They constantly looked to revolt against Rome. For them to be aligning themselves now with the very leader they hated in order to see this innocent man killed, was perhaps the best evidence that what Christ had said, was indeed the truth. This king from another world, this God of Truth, how could he pose so great a threat to the Jewish religious leadership? In verse 13 John continues … “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. [verse 14] And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! [verse 15] But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.”
The religious leadership had gone from accusing Christ to now accusing Pilate. The reports that were sure to travel to Rome were; that Pilate had sided with a revolutionary against Rome, while the loyal priests were faithful to Caesar. All the attempts to illicit sympathy had failed. The crowd seemed almost more enraged. The preparation for the Passover had already begun, yet these “pure” men continued to stay at the judgment hall in order to insure that murder took place, and Pilate did not release Christ while they attended to their religious duties. No matter what, this Roman authority must be made to have Christ executed. It was un-nerving to the priests to consider that in His brief time with Pilate, Christ may have made yet another convert to Himself. If a Roman governor were susceptible to the teachings of Christ, who could possibly be safe. The leadership had to insure the death of Christ, if that meant publicly declaring an allegiance ONLY to Caesar, then so be it. The Jews were willing to align themselves to the thing they hated most, to see God die. It is akin to having Jews with full knowledge of history aligning themselves to Neo-Nazi’s in order to see one of their own put to death. The people would hate it. The people would not understand. But they so needed to see this threat to their control killed, they were willing to say anything, align with the devil himself, to see Christ killed once and for all.
The Jewish religious leaders would allow no compromise. They would allow for nothing other than death. So despite his best efforts, the only way to release Christ now, was to start a revolution of his own. Pilate would be required to give his own life to see Christ released. The costs were just too high. Perhaps Pilate reasoned that the other gods might intervene on Christ’s behalf. But no matter his thinking, whether it was weakness, or just exhaustion that led to capitulation, he finally gave in. John records in verse 16 … “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.” It is the ultimate of ironies that in the union of Church and State, it became State who sought desperately to escape the union and see justice and mercy prevail. Church was bent on murder. Church ALWAYS is. The compulsion of the conscience through law has no other end game than the murder of dissent. State is merely the tool of murder, but it is Church that drives it, and allows for no other outcome. Had Christ been arrested and tried by Roman authorities without any intervention or interest from the priests, He would have been released, likely without even the scouring. Pilate was done with the question of His guilt in only a brief initial encounter. State would have seen Christ set free. It was Church that demanded He be killed.
When modern Christians seek to reunite Church and State, when they label this effort a return to family values, they put themselves on the same path that killed the Son of God. A return to the values of God cannot be done by the pen of our lawmakers. It can only be accomplished by our individual submission to Christ and His transformative love. Our religious values need no “protection” the State can offer, rather they cannot be bound or benefited by anything the State purports to control. Pilate had no authority that God had not granted him. Our religion does not need the shackles of a partnership with the State. It needs for us to embrace the love of Christ so fully that our very existence changes the world around us, and impacts each life we encounter. This is the way to change the world for the better, to demonstrate love in action. Control is not the province of our God. It is not His way to end conflict. Love is. Choice is. Freedom that results from it is. Let us abandon the ideas of re-uniting with the power of the State, and seek instead to be re-united with the power of Love that comes from Christ alone.
Friday, August 2, 2013
When we seek to take away the choice of what to believe, by the power of the State, it only ever ends in the death of the opposition. John records the most poignant of examples in his gospel, chapter 18, and beginning in verse 28 … “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” The religious leadership of God’s church delivered Christ to Rome in order to be put to death. The governor Pilate had not asked for this, he had not sought it. Christ was brought to him, in order to be condemned to death. Note that even while conducting a conspiracy to commit murder, the religious leaders are careful to “follow the rules” of their traditions, attempting not to “defile” themselves in order that they may eat the Passover. As such they do not go all the way into the judgment hall of Pilate where they intend Christ to be condemned. Observance of the Passover has become a highly regimented event of purported great significance throughout the nation. It offers the religious elite an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the nation why they are holier than them. It affirms their control over the people.
The words of Christ to the Samaritan woman that foretold the loss of significance about where people worshipped God, would completely undo the influence of the Pharisees over the people. Without a specific temple, in a specific city, at a specific time – the individualized worship of God – would supplement all the traditions the Pharisees had established over the people to keep them under control. Take for example the refusal to enter Pilate’s judgment hall. Since when is entry into any building forbidden by the laws, intentions, and values of God? The purpose for which we enter a building may run counter to the love of God, but the building itself has no moral significance. It is merely a structure made of wood or stone. Examine also the hypocrisy that allows money changers to literally take over the temple, cheating the worshippers and providing kick-backs to the priests during the holiest of feasts. This practice was not prohibited it was encouraged. Examine also the hypocrisy of a conspiracy to commit murder that is the purpose of their visit to Pilate, and yet they still believe themselves “pure” enough to partake of the Passover so long as they do not enter a particular structure while accomplishing the goal of murder of the innocent. This is the extent to which the mind will rationalize its own evil when religion is used to kill others.
The religious leaders have convinced themselves, that as long as they do not personally kill Him, the blood of Christ will be on the hands of the Romans. They take no personal accountability for the capture and arrest in the garden, for the mocking, insults, and beating during their examination of Him, nor for their complete inability to find one real fault in Him. They act as if they accidently discovered Christ in the hands of Pilate about to be condemned to death, and they simply had no response to this eventuality; instead of seeing how this entire series of events could not have occurred without them. They forget the blood money they paid to Judas to betray Him into their hands. They forget the council meetings they have held where His death was agreed to, planned, financed, and now in the process of being carried out. Evil does not ever recognize itself. Evil hides, rationalizes, blames others, pretends to be righteous, and when based on religious fervor – convinces itself it is the will of God.
Pilate, who I imagine was perfectly happy with his own evening’s itinerary is disturbed by this interruption, and is forced to see what the commotion is about. John continues in verse 29 … “Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? [verse 30] They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.” Pilate now wants to know why Christ has been brought to him. The answer they offer suggests that the crimes of Christ are actually against the government of Rome (otherwise why would they have brought Christ to Pilate). Pilate, thinking that Christ must have simply been a thorn to the Pharisees, suggests the next logical course of action in verse 31 … “Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: [verse 32] That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.” Pilate is offering the Jewish leaders autonomy to judge a trouble maker and punish Him however they like. But the Jews are not interested in punishing Christ, they want Him dead. And they still want to partake of Passover, so they need the Romans to do it. The typical Roman method of execution was crucifixion and the words of Christ about being “lifted up” foretold this fate.
Thus begins the examination of Christ by Pilate. The fame of this miracle worker could hardly be ignored, there were political implications to what Pilate would do with Him. The chief job of the Roman governor was to insure the smooth flow of Roman taxes back to Rome. Insurrection posed a threat to the flow of money, and thus it would be considered a failure by Rome to have it occur, or last for any length of time. Pilate knew the crowds of common people sought this man out. He knew that if the followers of Christ were to become enraged, it could disrupt the flow of taxes back to Rome. So he begins his inquiry with the most pressing political question of the day. John records in verse 33 … “Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?” If Christ intends to accept the coronation of the people, or perhaps if He already has, this is something Pilate must weigh when deciding His fate. Is He a threat already? Jesus responds in verse 34 … “Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” In effect, Jesus asks, did my accusers tell you this, or have you obtained this idea from the witness of the people or perhaps a personal encounter? The subtlety here in the answer of Christ, is that He has made no such declaration, and His predicament would suggest no earthly kingship.
Pilate responds with a sarcastic comment in verse 35 … “Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?” Pilate is NO Jew, He is a Roman governor. Pilate will have had no personal encounter with Christ up to now. But in any case, the Jewish people have brought one of their own to a Roman for execution. This is not a common event. Further the High Priest and leadership of the religion have brought Christ here. So Pilate wonders what Jesus has done to merit such disfavor among His own people. Jesus responds in verse 36 … “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Notice first, that Jesus does not see the need for a fight against Rome even if He had been the king of this people, rather His servants would have fought to keep Him from being delivered to “the Jews”. Interesting that even if He were the King of these people He intended no threat to Rome. So even if guilty of what His accusers said, Pilate would have no interest in the accusation as Christ posed no threat to Rome. But what Jesus was actually saying was something a bit deeper. He was a King, but not a King over the world of evil in which we live. His Kingship was over our hearts in order to break our chains to evil, and restore our freedom to love. That was the perfection He was here to accomplish. Jesus sees Himself as a King over all people, in that as many as choose to follow Him, and choose to acknowledge Him as their King, He accepts.
Pilate continues the exchange in verse 37 … “Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. [verse 38] Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.” Pilate upon hearing the answer of Christ believes perhaps He is a King, but just not from around there. Jesus changes the direction of the conversation and reaches out to Pilate in a way his quest for Roman justice would understand. Jesus says He is here for this cause, that He bears witness unto the truth. Those who seek truth, listen to His voice. Pilate, who has sat in the judgment hall many times, and heard the voice of lawyers and witnesses, knows full well that people bend the truth to suit their own purposes. Witnesses contradict each other without intent to lie, but offer testimony that could not possibly all be true, as they disagree about the facts. Christian religious denominations study the same Bible, read the same texts, and come to completely different conclusions about what the “truth” is. Each believing only its version of truth is truth. So Pilate responds with his most perplexed evaluation of this asking “what is truth?” The answer was literally standing in front of him. Christ had said it before; He was the embodiment of truth. What Pilate was sure of by now, is that there was literally no threat to Rome, nor guilt in the person brought before him. In short, Christ was not worthy of death at all.
John records that Pilate believed he had a way out from being involved with the condemnation of an innocent man. The Romans offered the Jews a traditional prisoner release on the occasion of the Passover. So Pilate attempts to make the choice a simple one. He will offer the people the most notorious criminal they know. Pilate will offer them a known murderer, robber, and general criminal that would threaten their very lives if he escaped. Or, they can have Christ, who from what Pilate can tell, is completely harmless. So in verse 39 it continues … “But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? [verse 40] Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.” The people would prefer a criminal who intended them harm, than the freedom that Christ would offer. The choice is no different today for us. So often we choose the tempter who means us harm, than the freedom from pain Christ longs to bring us. We like our addictions. We like our misery. We revel in it. And thus we add our voices to those who prefer Barabbas to Christ. It looks as though Religion is determined to make the State bend to it’s will.
But the trial and the blending of Church and State was not over yet …