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. Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. 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: that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? 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. 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. 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. 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? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.
And so, we have read the first half of the greatest trial, or mock trial, that ever took place in human history, when before Pontius Pilate our Lord witnessed a good confession.
Some very striking things are brought to our attention in this passage, and first of all we observe how very punctilious men may be in regard to the outward observance of what they call religion, while utterly bereft of any true spirituality and definite knowledge of relationship to God. We read here that the accusers of our blessed Lord led Him from the judgment hall of Caiaphas, the high priest, unto the Roman hall of judgment. While they had their own court to deal with cases that had to do with their own religion and their own customs and traditions, yet they were denied the right to deal with cases that involved crimes against the government or to carry out the death penalty. The Jewish way of executing capital punishment was by stoning to death, but they were not permitted to deal thus with their criminals. The Roman method was by crucifixion.
So, having decided on perjured evidence that our Lord Jesus Christ was guilty of blasphemy, the chief priests took Him before Pilate that He might be condemned to death. They led Him there early in the morning but they, themselves, went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, that they might eat the feast of the Passover. If they went two steps over the threshold of a Gentile hall on the Passover day, they were unclean ceremonially and could not participate in that annual service of the Jewish congregation. And these men who were bent upon the murder of the Son of God were so punctilious about the little things of the law that they did not dare pass over the threshold of Pilate’s hall lest they should be defiled. And yet, there before them stood the One of whom every Passover lamb that had ever been sacrificed, from that first Passover in Egypt right down to their own day, was a type. We read, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
For fifteen hundred years, except for occasional times when they were out of the will of God or away from their land, the Jewish people had been faithful in the observance of the Passover. As those lambs were slain year by year, they pictured “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As their blood was shed, it pictured the precious blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin those who put their trust in Him. God declared in Egypt on the night of the first Passover, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exod. 12:13). This was a gospel type. The blood over the lintel that night secured Israel’s safety. The destroying angel could not enter in.
And so today, those, whether Jew or Gentile, who put their trust in this true Passover Lamb, our Lord Jesus, will find shelter beneath His precious blood and be absolutely secure from judgment. The Lord Jesus, Himself, has said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Notice that expression condemnation. I like the Catholic rendition of that verse. Listen to it, “Amen, amen, I say to you, He who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and comes not into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.” That is from the Douay Version. What a wonderful statement that is! That is the declaration of the Son of God that all who trust in Him are forever shielded from judgment. And those who thus trust Him know that the destroyer shall never touch them.
But here, you see, were people who were very conscientious about the outward things of the law and yet failed to recognize the One of whom the type of the law spoke, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so they did not pass over the threshold of this court room lest they should become ceremonially defiled, and yet, in a little while we hear them demanding the death of the Son of God. Of course, we hasten to say what Scripture affirms, they did not know He was the Son of God. Peter said after Pentecost, “Brethren, I [know] that through ignorance ye did it” (Acts 3:17). And because of that, a city of refuge had been opened to them. God will deal with them not as murderers but as unwitting manslayers, if they will flee to the refuge He has provided— but that refuge is found in the same Savior whom they crucified.
But let not us who are Gentiles think we are any less guilty in the crucifixion of the Son of God. The Gentiles, too, were linked with that solemn event, but even there God shows mercy. The apostle Paul says, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). So here, you see, Jews and Gentiles united in their ignorance and misunderstanding to reject the One who came to save.
Well, here is the crowd waiting, and Pilate graciously concedes to their demand. Recognizing their conscientious scruples, he went out to them and said, “What accusation bring ye against this man?” (John 18:29). Instead of presenting any very definite accusation, they said, “If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee” (v. 30). They meant, “The fact that we brought Him declares that He is deserving of judgment.” “Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law” (v. 31a). But they said, “No, we cannot do that. ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death’ (v. 31b). He deserves to die, but the Roman government has taken the power of life and death away from us.” But all this was done “that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die” (v. 32). For on many occasions our blessed Lord had foretold His death. He had forewarned His disciples of what was coming. He said, “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31).
Nothing was unforeseen. He knew exactly what was before Him when He came from heaven as the Son of God and in divine grace was born as a Child here on earth. He came, saying, “I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Ps. 40:8), and He knew that the doing of that will meant going to the cross of Calvary. All through His life that was before Him. He was the only Israelite growing up in that land who knew the exact meaning of the Passover. He was the only Israelite who knew to what all those sacrifices of the temple referred. He knew that He was the One who was to fulfill them all and offer Himself, without spot, to God. But He never hesitated, and when at last this ministry of grace was coming to an end, we read, “He set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, author’s paraphrase). He was steadfast in that which He came to do. Even in Gethsemane’s Garden, when His holy humanity shrank from the awfulness of becoming the great Sin-bearer, yet He said, “My Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt. 26:42).
So here He stands in Pilate’s judgment hall, led as a lamb to the slaughter. He made no effort to clear Himself. He was ready to die, ready to go to the cross in order that we might live.
Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus to him and said unto Him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33). They had brought this charge against Him, that He had declared Himself to be the King of the Jews. Pilate was used to different ones rising up with claims to be the Messiah. They had been dealt with very severely by the Roman Government.
“Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (vv. 33-34). As much as to say, “Are you asking this question because of a sincere desire to know the truth, or is it simply a rumor that has come to you and you want to trace it down?” You see, whenever men honestly wanted to know the truth, the Lord Jesus was ready to clarify it but never to satisfy some indifferent questioner. So, I say to you, if you really wish to know if Jesus is the Son of God, if you are saying to yourself, “I wish I knew if He is really the Messiah of Israel. I wish I knew if He is really the promised King who is to bring in blessing for this poor world,” let me tell you how you may know. “If any man will to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (7:17). If you honestly desire to know, if you will go to God, take your place before Him as a sinner, confess your sin and guilt and cry to Him for the way of deliverance and look to Him to give you light, He has pledged Himself to do so.
Oh, if Pilate had only been in earnest that day! But we see him convicted as a trifler with eternal verities. He is not really interested to know if Jesus is King. In Pilate’s eyes He is just some queer, fanatical Jew who has done nothing particularly worthy of death but is some sort of a public nuisance and must be dealt with in a way that will quiet the people.
So Pilate asks contemptuously, “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?” (18:35). In other words, “Tell me now, what is your error? What is your misdemeanor? What have you done?” One can readily imagine the scornful curl of his lip as he asked these questions.
Jesus looked up quietly and said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (v. 36a). that is, “It is not of this order,” or, “I do not pretend to be a King in the sense that those who fill the thrones of earth are kings. My kingdom is not of this universe, but of another order altogether. My kingdom is of heaven.” That is really what He meant. He left Pilate to inquire, if he were earnest enough to do so. “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” (v. 36b).
He is not denying that some day His kingdom is going to be set up in this world. Some day all the prophecies regarding Him will be fulfilled. But when that day comes, His kingdom will not be of this earthly order. It will be a heavenly kingdom set up here on earth.
So He disclaims all suggestions of expecting to overthrow Roman power. Pilate looks at Him contemplatively and says, more to himself than to Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” (v. 37a). Oh, there was something so striking about this lowly Carpenter from Nazareth as He stood there unafraid and looked into the face of the representative of the greatest power on earth, and talked about a kingdom that is not of this world. Pilate wonders who this strange mysterious Man could be. “Art thou a king then?”
Then Jesus answered and said, “Thou sayest that I am a king” (37b). He was indeed a King—a King without a kingdom here, a King without a host of subjects to acknowledge His authority, but the One of whom God, the Father, had said, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Ps. 2:6). “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (v. 37c), or, “that I might be a martyr to the truth.” And some have said that that is all that Jesus was, simply dying as a martyr to the truth. He did so die, but that was not all. He died as the great sin offering, yielding Himself without spot unto God for our redemption.
But there He stands in Pilate’s judgment hall, a witness to the truth. He was, Himself, truth incarnate. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). So now He says, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (18:37d). Do you see the challenge in that sentence? He is practically saying, “Every honest man and woman will listen to Me when they hear Me.” Don’t say, “I wish I knew whether Jesus was the Son of God,” and then turn away and refuse the test that He gives in the Word, for everyone who is absolutely honest in seeking to know will know. “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?” (v. 38b). And there you have the question of the cynic. His restless mind and heart had not found satisfaction in anything. He had come to the place where he feels that no one knows where we came from or where we are going. “Who can tell?” “What is truth?”
Oh, if Pilate had but been in earnest in asking that question! There stood One who could have told him, One who could have opened up all the things that were perplexing him. Lord Bacon wrote: “‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and waited not for an answer.” Oh, that is the pity of it! He might have had the answer. But this man was a trifler. This man was not in earnest. This man did not really want to know the truth. O God, give us to be honest and in earnest, and if we are, we shall soon find ourselves at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews” (v. 38a-b). He does not wait for an answer to his question, and so he is left in doubt and in darkness. He said to the Jews, “I find in him no fault at all” (v. 38c). In other words, “I see no reason to put this Man to death.”
Then it occurred to him that there was a way by which he could placate the people and yet save Jesus from death. It had been arranged some years before that some prisoner of state should be set free at each Passover season in order that the people might feel that Rome was considerate of their national prejudices. It came to his mind that he might put up the name of Jesus, and they would let Him go free. So he said, “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?” (v. 39). (Listen to the irony in this question.) But at this they cried out, “Not this man, but Barabbas” (v. 40). Barabbas was a robber in the eyes of the law, it is true, but he was a Jewish patriot. The very thing they charged against Jesus was true of Barabbas. He was an insurrectionist. They would let Barabbas go free and let Jesus be crucified. “Not this man, but Barabbas.” And that has been the voice, not only of the Jews, but of the world down through the centuries. They have chosen the robber and the murderer. The world has been dominated by the robber and the murderer, and Jesus is still rejected.
Have you made your choice? Are you saying in your heart, “Not this man, but Barabbas?” “Not this man, but—” What are you putting in the place of Jesus in your heart? Oh, that you might reverse your decision.
Some years ago in an eastern city, a well-known Jewish merchant had a warmhearted Christian friend. These two businessmen used to meet together at lunch-time and talk things over together, and the Christian frankly put forward the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Jewish friend would listen politely but never make any comment. By and by, this Jewish merchant was taken very ill, and word came that he was dying. The Christian friend wanted to go to see him but was told he could not do so. Word came that he could not live much longer, and his friend made another effort to see him. The doctor said, “Let him in. He cannot do him any harm now.” He promised not to talk to him, and went into the room, slipped to the bedside, and knelt there, taking his friend’s poor, thin hand in his own. Silently he lifted his heart to God on behalf of the dying Jewish merchant. Then as the sick man lay there with closed eyes, breathing heavily, there was a change. His eyes opened, turned to his friend, and looked kindly upon him. Then the lips parted, and he said just before he slipped into eternity, “Not Barabbas, but this Man.”
See what that meant. He had reversed the sentence of his people in Pilate’s judgment hall. What would you say? “Not this Man, but Barabbas”? What would you say? “Not any other but this Man, Christ”?
Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin;
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinner, will you let Him in?
Room for pleasure, room for business,
But for Christ the crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?
Have you any room for Jesus,
As in grace He calls again?
Oh, today is time accepted,
Tomorrow you may call in vain.
Room and time now give to Jesus,
Soon will pass God’s day of grace;
Soon thy heart left cold and silent,
And Thy Saviour’s pleading cease.