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John 18

(Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53)

Therefore, the Jews did not at first answer Pilate directly. They could not prove any charge against Jesus that would make Jesus worthy of the death sentence according to Roman law. Yet their chief desire was to get Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. So they said to Pilate, “You don’t need to ask what the charges are. You can be sure Jesus is guilty. We would not have brought Him to you otherwise. Just accept our judgment.” At the Jews’ request, Pilate’s soldiers had helped arrest Jesus (verse 12); now the Jews wanted Pilate to render a judgment according to their wishes also.

31 But Pilate knew that the charge against Jesus involved a religious matter, so at first he refused to pass judgment on the case.

But the Jews wanted Jesus executed, and according to Roman law, only the Roman officials had authority to execute criminals.117

32 The Jews had an additional purpose in bringing Jesus to Pilate. They wanted Jesus to be killed by crucif ixion (the Roman method of executing people), and not by stoning (the Jewish method). In the Old Testament it is written: … anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). This referred to hanging the bodies of condemned criminals on a tree after they had been executed in order to let everyone see their terrible fate and be warned by it. The Jews wanted to kill Jesus by hanging Him on a cross, so that He might be utterly disgraced in the eyes of the Jewish people. But only the Romans could crucify criminals, and that was another reason why the Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate.

John tells us of yet another reason—God’s reason—why Jesus was to be crucified. It fulfilled the prophecy that Jesus Himself gave concerning the kind of death He was to die (see Matthew 20:19; John 12:32 and comments).

Therefore, at this point the Jews told Pilate the “special charge” they had decided to bring against Jesus: namely, the charge that Jesus had tried to make Himself the king of the Jews. Pilate would have to look into such a charge, because it was a crime against the Roman emperor for any man to set himself up as another king (see Mark 15:1; John 19:12 and comments). In the Romans’ eyes there could be only one king, and that was the Roman emperor. The Romans considered anyone who tried to make himself a king to be an insurrectionist and an enemy of the emperor.

33 When Pilate heard this charge, he took Jesus aside and asked Him, “Is this charge true? Are you the king of the Jews?” (see Mark 15:2). Jesus certainly didn’t look like someone trying to make himselfa king! Pilate must have thought the charge was absurd.

34 Jesus asked Pilate if this idea about His being a king was his own idea or whether the idea had been put in his mind by the Jewish leaders. If it was Pilate’s idea, Pilate would be thinking of a political king. Jesus was not that kind of king. But if the charge was the idea of the Jews, then they would be thinking of a religious “king,” the Messiah. And Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Therefore, Jesus couldn’t give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to Pilate’s question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Because the answer depended on what kind of king Pilate was asking about.

35 Pilate answered Jesus, “Do you think I am a Jew? Why would I think up something like this? This idea came from your own leaders.”

Pilate wondered what Jesus had done to get the Jewish leaders so angry at Him. He had to make sure Jesus had not broken a Roman law. “What is it you have done?” he asked.

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He admitted that He was a “king,” but not the kind of king Pilate thought. If He had been an earthly king, He would have fought the Romans by force, in the manner of earthly kings. But His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly kingdom. He did not need to fight with earthly weapons. Jesus’ kingdom was the kingdom of God (see Mark 1:15 and comment).

How silly it was for Pilate to suppose that He was the earthly king of the Jews. Would the Jews be trying to arrest and kill their own king? of course, not.

37 Pilate then said, “You are a king, then!118 Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king.119 Jesus was indeed a king, the king of a greater kingdom than the Roman Empire!

Indeed, Jesus had been sent by God into the world to testify about this kingdom. The kingdom of God is the true kingdom; it is the only kingdom that will last forever. This is the truth that Jesus came to testify about. Those who are of the truth—that is, those who are on the side of truth—listen to Jesus and believe Him (see 1 John 4:6).

38What is truth? How can a man know the truth?” Pilate wanted to know. One man says one thing; another man says another. Who can say what the “truth” is?

Jesus could say what the truth was! Jesus Himself was the truth (John 14:6). He was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). And He spoke the word of God, which is the truth (John 17:17). Unbelieving man says: “I cannot accept God’s word, because I cannot know the truth.” Jesus says: “Believe in me. Then you will know the truth” (John8:32).

Pilate didn’t think he could learn the truth from questioning Jesus, so he ended the interview. But he had decided that Jesus was innocent of wrongdoing. “I find no basis for a charge against him,” he said to the crowd of Jews outside his palace.

39-40 Then he suggested that he release Jesus. At each Passover festival it was the custom that the Roman governor release one Jewish prisoner as a sign of friendship toward the Jews. But the crowd, under the influence of the chief priests (Mark 15:11), demanded that another prisoner, Barabbas, be released instead. John tells us that Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.120 Barabbas had led a revolt against the Romans. He was probably popular among the Jewish people. Let Barabbas be released, and let Pilate crucify Jesus! The Jews preferred an outlaw to the Son of God! (see Mark 15:6-14 and comment).

Think of how false and hypocritical the Jews were. They demanded the release of a man who had committed the very crime that they had falsely accused Jesus of—the crime of rising up against the Roman emperor!

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