Setting

Jesus stood on trial through the night before Annas and Caiaphas the high priest. Annas’ fruitless attempt to interrogate Jesus could only confirm Jesus’ innocence and expose the illegitimacy of the trial by the Jewish authorities. They then lead Jesus to Pilate, the governor of Judea, with the intent of putting Jesus to death. Pilate, being a Roman official, has no interest in the religious dispute of the Jews and finds no fault in Jesus. Through Jesus’ own revelation and the accusations of the Jews, Pilate begins to realize that Jesus is no ordinary man and attempts to release Him. But eventually he bows to the political pressure exerted by the Jews and sentences Jesus to death by crucifixion.

Key Verse

(18:37)

Did You Know...?

1. The Praetorium (18:28) was the headquarters of the Roman governor.

2. Early morning (18:28) by Roman reckoning would be from 3 to 6 a.m.

3. “Lest they should be defiled” (18:28): According to Jewish law, dwelling places of gentiles are unclean (The Mishnah. ‘Ohol. 18:7 B).

4. Pilate (18:29) was appointed by the emperor Tiberius as the prefect of Judea and served from A.D. 26 to 36.

5. Scourged (19:1): “The Romans used three forms of corporal punishment: beating (Lat fustigatio), flogging (flagellatio), and scourging (verberatio). Freemen received punishments inflicted by either rods of birch or elm that were often bound together in a bundle. Slaves or non-Romans could be punished with whips made of leather straps or knotted cords often weighted with pieces of metal or bone. Roman law allowed their use in four situations: as a torture to promote the questioning of a prisoner, as a self-standing punishment, as a capital punishment (people were sentenced to death by beating), or as a preparation for execution. On some occasions these beatings were so severe that bones and organs were left exposed (Josephus BJ ii.21.5 [612]; vi.5.3 [304]).” [ref]

6. A crown of thorns (19:2): “These thorns, up to several inches long, would sink into the victim’s skull, which caused blood to gush out and distort a person’s face, resulting in considerable pain.” [ref]

7. The Pavement (19:13): “The Greek word is an adjective meaning ‘paved with stoneblock,’ ‘made of tesserae,’ hence, of a mosaic or tessellated pavement… The public trial of Jesus could not be conducted in the palace proper lest the Jews defile themselves before the feast. Hence Pilate located his judgment seat outside in the courtyard where this pavement was.” [ref]

8. Preparation Day of the Passover (19:14): Various views have been proposed regarding the meaning of this term in this context, depending on one’s position on the dating of Jesus’ crucifixion: 1) The day preceding Passover; 2) The day preceding the weekly Sabbath of the Passover week; 3) The day preceding the festival Sabbath (Lev 23:7).

Outline

  • Pilate and the Jews
  • Pilate and Jesus
    (18:33–38a)
  • Pilate and the Jews; Release of Barabbas
    (18:38b-40)
  • Scourging, Crown of Thorns, Insult
  • Pilate Presenting Jesus
  • Pilate and Jesus
  • Jesus Delivered to Be Crucified
    (19:13–16a)

Keywords/Phrases

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General Analysis

  • 1a.

    Observe and record the seven scenes in this passage that alternate between the outside and inside of the Praetorium.

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    Outside (18:28–32) Inside (18:33–38a) Outside (18:38b-40) Inside (19:1–3) Outside (19:4–8) Inside (19:9–12) Outside (19:13–16a)

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  • 1b.

    How did Pilate’s attitude toward Jesus change progressively through the repeated actions of going out of and coming back into the Praetorium?

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    Pilate at first had little interest in the case brought before him and in who Jesus was. He simply viewed Jesus as a man who had done something to offend Jewish law (Jn 18:31, 35). When Jesus spoke to Pilate about His kingdom and revealed His kingship, Jesus’ words rang in Pilate’s ears (Jn 18:38). But Pilate did not pursue the matter further. Instead, he went back and forth between the outside and inside the Praetorium to make negotiations with the Jews in the hope that they would drop the case, but to no avail. The increasing vehemence with which the chief priests and officers demanded Jesus’ crucifixion and their charge that Jesus had made Himself the Son of God caused Pilate to become more afraid of Jesus (Jn 18:38–19:8). At this, Pilate sought in earnest to know Jesus’ true identity, only to realize that Jesus indeed laid claim to a higher authority and could not therefore be coerced to make any further confession (Jn 19:8–11). Pilate’s final exchange with Jesus must have instilled even greater fear in Pilate, and he became convinced that he must find a way to release Jesus (Jn 19:12).

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  • 2a.

    What do you detect about the tone and feelings in these questions? “Am I a Jew?” (18:35)

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    Nonchalant and indifferent, somewhat condescending.

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  • 2b.

    “Are you a king then?” (18:37)

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    Curious, and maybe a little amused.

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  • 2c.

    “What is truth”? (18:38)

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    Intrigued, but uninterested.

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  • 2d.

    “Where are You from?” (19:9)

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    Afraid and serious.

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  • 2e.

    “Are You not speaking to me?” (19:10)

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    Annoyed and even desperate.

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  • 3a.

    Record how the narrative increasingly conveys: Jesus’ innocence

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    Jesus’ accusers could produce no concrete charge or evidence against Jesus. Pilate’s investigation could only revolve around Jesus’ identity, and that in fact allowed Jesus to reveal Himself as the witness for the truth. Jesus had always spoken the truth to the world. It is not surprising, therefore, that Pilate could not find any guilt in Jesus. Thus he declared repeatedly, “I find no fault in Him” (Jn 18:38, 19:4, 6). The accusation from the Jews that Jesus had made Himself the Son of God, Jesus’ claim before Pilate to the power from above, and Pilate’s final resolution to release Jesus all the more served to highlight Jesus’ complete innocence.

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  • 3b.

    The accusers’ guilt

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    The Jews initially simply accused Jesus as an evildoer but could not spell out what crime He had committed. When Pilate refused to take the case, their true murderous intent became evident (Jn 18:31). Jesus’ statement that He was of the truth also implicated His enemies. They were not of the truth, and therefore would not hear His voice (18:37). They were bent on putting Jesus to death, even to the extent of demanding the release of a robber instead of Jesus (18:40). Pilate’s repeated declaration of Jesus’ innocence only made Jesus’ accusers even guiltier. From their own mouths they indirectly betrayed themselves as murderers of the Son of God (19:7). Finally, Jesus spoke and passed judgment on those who had delivered Him to Pilate (as well as on Pilate), declaring that they had greater sin than Pilate (19:11).

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  • 3c.

    Pilate’s predicament

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    As Pilate gradually realized that Jesus was not only innocent of any crime, but that He had in fact power from beyond this world, he made more earnest effort to let Jesus go. But the pressures from the Jews also increased, going from accusation to shouts and to personal threats against Pilate in the end. Pilate found himself hemmed in between the forces of good and evil.

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  • 4.

    How do the different parts of the narrative build on the theme of Jesus’ kingship?

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    The entire narrative portrays Jesus as the King by using various literary devices. Pilate’s first round of interrogation revolved around the question of Jesus’ kingship. Jesus made it plain that He was indeed a king and spoke about the nature of His kingship and His kingdom (Jn 18:33–37). Although he did not personally believe Jesus’ kingship, Pilate more than once referred to Jesus as the King of the Jews (18:39; 19:14, 15; cf. 19:19). Even through the mocking of the soldiers, with the crown of thorns and purple robe placed on Jesus, Jesus’ kingship stands as central to the story (19:3). The concluding words of the chief priests, “We have no king but Caesar!” spelled their final and ultimate rejection of Jesus as their King (19:15). Therefore, while Jesus was rejected by His own and suffered the greatest humiliation, we see through the Gospel account of the trial before Pilate that Jesus was exalted as a king of a different kind—the King from heaven.

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Segment Analysis

  • 18:28–32

    1.

    What was ironic about the Jews’ carefully avoiding being defiled?

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    They were scrupulous about not being defiled outwardly, but what they were doing to Jesus shows that inwardly they were utterly defiled with unbelief, jealousy, and murderous thoughts (cf. Mt 15:17–20).

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  • 2.

    What do you think was wrong about the Jews’ reply to Pilate’s question (30, 31)?

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    They could not pinpoint what crime Jesus had committed. They evaded Pilate’s question with a vague answer.

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  • 3.

    How did the plot of the Jews fulfill Jesus’ words (cf. Jn 12:32, 33)?

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    In John 12:32, the Lord Jesus foretold that He would be “lifted up from the earth,” and the following verse explains the statement as signifying what kind of death He would die. Had the Jews succeeded in stoning Jesus to death (cf. Jn 8:59), Jesus’ words would not have been fulfilled. However, by God’s will and according to Jesus’ sovereign knowledge, the Jews delivered Jesus to the Romans to be put to death. This course of events led to Jesus’ death by crucifixion. This was an exact fulfillment of Jesus’ words.

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  • 18:33–38a

    4a.

    What is surprising about Pilate’s question to Jesus in verse 33?

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    The Jews who had delivered Jesus to Pilate had not mentioned Jesus’ kingship at all.

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  • 4b.

    How does this relate to Jesus’ question to Pilate in verse 34?

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    Pilate probably asked Jesus about the title “King of the Jews” because he had heard about Jesus through the mouths of the Jews in Jerusalem, since Jesus’ name and deeds had become so well known (cf. Jn 12:19). When Jesus entered Jerusalem just a few days prior to His arrest, the multitude had hailed Him as “The King of Israel” (Jn 12:13). As such, it would have been quite natural for even the Romans to have heard about this “king” among the Jews. Jesus’ question to Pilate, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” is to be understood in this context.

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  • 4c.

    What was the intent behind Jesus’ question?

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    It was important for Jesus to set His response to Pilate in the proper frame. If the question had come from Pilate himself, perhaps Jesus would have answered that He was not a political insurgent the way a Roman would understand the epithet “the King of the Jews.” But Pilate removed himself from any interest in the question and made the Jews responsible for the epithet. Coming from the Jews, “the King of the Jews” had a Messianic overtone. Therefore, Jesus must not deny that He was indeed their King, but He also needed to clarify at the same time that His kingship was of a different nature than that of an earthly king.

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  • 5a.

    Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. How did this fact determine the course of events for Jesus?

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    Jesus was handed over to the wishes of the evil doers and subjected to the authority of Pilate because His kingdom was not of this world. Had He come to rule by means of the political powers the world normally associates kingship with, Jesus would have crushed His enemies without effort. But Jesus had come to rule as the King of peace by reconciling the world to God through His death. So He would not resist those who had plotted for His life or those who had come to arrest Him. It was necessary for Him to bear all these afflictions and die on the cross to fulfill His purpose as the King from above.

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  • 5b.

    How does this understanding help define your relationship with Him in your life today?

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    Our Lord Jesus is not a king to whom we come and beg to remove every hardship in our lives. He is our heavenly King who has in store for us the glorious and everlasting inheritance in heaven. Just as He Himself had endured the greatest pain to fulfill God’s purpose, we also need to follow His footsteps while we go through trials of various kinds in this life (1 Pet 1:3–9). In our suffering and in our struggles, we can come before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and grace from our King who had Himself suffered (Heb 4:16).

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  • 6.

    What does it mean to you that Jesus is King?

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  • 7.

    How did Jesus bear witness to the truth?

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    Jesus is the Word who had become flesh to declare the Father, and He was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14, 18). In other words, Jesus bore witness to the truth in the sense that in Him we see the Father for who He truly is, and He declared all that He had received from the One who is true (Jn 8:26, 40). Jesus also gave to those who believe in Him the word of the Father, which is truth (Jn 17:14, 17). In fact, Jesus Himself is the truth because in Him alone can a person find the way back to the Father (Jn 14:6). On the contrary, anyone who does not accept the truth spoken by the Lord Jesus is not of the truth but belongs to the devil, the father of lies (Jn 8:43–47).

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  • 8.

    What does it mean to hear His voice?

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  • 9.

    What things in our lives could show that we are “of the truth”?

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  • 18:38b-40

    10.

    What did Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” say about him?

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    While Pilate was intrigued by Jesus’ words about the truth, he had no interest to learn of the truth from the Lord Jesus. He simply asked the question indifferently and went out again of the Praetorium. He thereby missed the opportunity presented before him to come to know the Savior.

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  • 11.

    What did the Jews’ demand reveal about them?

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    The Jews were so determined to kill Jesus that they were willing to set a criminal free. They certainly did not have love for the truth in their heart. From this example, we can see the extent a person living in darkness is ready to go to gratify his selfish desires.

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  • 19:1–7

    12.

    Why did Pilate scourge Jesus and present Him to the Jews?

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    After Pilate had scourged Jesus and the soldiers had placed on His head a crown of thorns and put on Him a purple robe, Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews. We can picture this appalling scene, where Jesus was covered in blood from the scouring and the thorns and yet being adorned mockingly as a king. Pilate’s intention was to let Jesus go free by showing the Jews that he had already punished Jesus (even though Jesus had committed no crime). Perhaps he had hoped that the sight of the humiliated king would suffice for the accusing Jews so that they would no longer pursue a death sentence.

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  • 13.

    When you are unjustly wounded, what helps you to bear it?

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  • 14.

    How did the accusation of the Jews all the more incriminate them?

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    Through their words of accusation, the Jews had unwittingly acknowledged Jesus for who He truly is—the Son of God. Their murderous acts stemmed from their obstinate refusal to believe in the Son of God. They had spelled out their own crime, that they were demanding the death of God’s Son.

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  • 19:8–12

    15a.

    How was there a role reversal in this segment: between Pilate and Jesus?

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    Pilate at first attempted to use his authority as governor to make Jesus talk. But in the end Jesus revealed His far greater authority.

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  • 15b.

    between the Jews and Jesus?

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    Although He was accused by the Jews, the Lord Jesus now pronounced judgment on His accusers.

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  • 15c.

    between Pilate and the Jews?

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    Initially the Jews seemed to be at the mercy of Pilate, and on a few occasions we can sense an air of superiority in Pilate’s words (e.g. Jn 18:31, 19:6). In the end, however, Pilate found himself in a predicament and eventually bowed to the pressure and threat from the Jews.

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  • 16.

    How did Jesus indirectly answer Pilate’s question, “Where are you from?”

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    Jesus remained silent when Pilate asked Him, “Where are You from?” But when Pilate attempted to exert pressure on Jesus with his authority, Jesus responded, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11). This response indirectly answered the question about Jesus’ origin. Along with Jesus’ words earlier in the trial that His kingdom was not of this world, Jesus’ reply to Pilate made it quite plain that Jesus was claiming to have come from above.

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  • 17.

    Explain the reason for the Jews’ greater sin.

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    Pilate thought that he had total power to crucify and release Jesus, but Jesus corrected him and pointed out that his power over Jesus was granted by God. Pilate would still be responsible to some extent for Jesus’ death (“greater sin” implies “lesser sin”) because in the end, Pilate still needed to make a choice. However, since Pilate had no personal interest in crucifying Jesus but was for the most part an acting agent in God’s greater purpose, he would not be as guilty before God as those who had planned to murder Jesus out of their unbelief and jealousy.

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  • 18.

    How is our conduct determined by whether we know the ultimate source of power?

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  • 19.

    What threat were the Jews making?

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    They were threatening Pilate with the suggestion that releasing Jesus would be disloyalty to Caesar.

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  • 19:13–16a

    20.

    What considerations finally made Pilate go against his own judgment about Jesus?

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    The threat from the Jews had a decisive effect on Pilate (Jn 19:13). Pilate could not risk losing the favor of Caesar even though he had come to see Jesus as someone to be revered. His fear of Caesar’s power prevailed over his fear of who Jesus might be.

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  • 21.

    In what situations might we likewise close our eyes to the truth and act against our conscience?

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  • 22.

    The chief priests answered Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar!” What does this acclamation of loyalty reveal about the heart of the chief priests?

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    On the surface, the chief priests acted and spoke as if they wanted to put Jesus to death out of loyalty to God. They appeared to keep God’s law and honor no one but God (Jn 19:7). However, when the chief priests declared they had no king but Caesar, they revealed their true intent. They were willing to go so far as expediently sacrificing their supposed loyalty to God in order to carry out their murderous plot against Jesus. In their hearts, they were servants of their own sinful desires. They were not servants of God.

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