Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. 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. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! 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 Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. 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? 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. 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. 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. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priest answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.
In the last section of the previous chapter we had a view of Christ before Pilate. In the present portion the conditions are reversed. Now it is really Pilate who is on trial before Christ. What will this pusillanimous Roman politician do with One whom he knows to be absolutely innocent of all the charges brought against Him? Will Pilate acquit the innocent, as a righteous judge should? Or will he condemn Him as guilty in order to protect himself against the evil insinuations of the leaders in Judea who threaten him with political ruin if he does not accede to their wishes? We know the answer well, but let us consider the entire case anew as we meditate upon the most unrighteous trial in all human history.
In this section, then, we have Pilate before Christ. In the previous chapter we had the Lord Jesus dragged before Pilate’s judgment bar. But the trial was practically over when the judge himself went out to the people and said, “After careful examination, and after hearing all of the charges, I find in Him no fault at all.” That was really a judgment of acquittal. Jesus had been tried and found innocent of the charges brought against Him. According to all righteousness, Pilate should then have dismissed the case, and Jesus should have gone out free. But we know that in the purpose of God it had been settled from eternity that He who was born at Bethlehem was to die upon the cross to make propitiation for our sins. And God, therefore, so overruled and so permitted things that the mock trial should still go on.
Now Pilate is on trial. What about this Roman judge? What is his attitude? What is God’s thought of him? What does this scene reveal concerning him?
In the first place, it reveals Pilate as a weakling who knew what was right and did it not. He knew he should have freed the Lord Jesus Christ. He knew after investigating and pronouncing Him innocent that he should have ended the case right there. But he did not act upon his own deepest convictions because he was not true to his own conscience. We may see in the first five verses how he stifled the voice of conscience. We are told that “Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him” (v. 1). Why should he scourge Him? He has just declared Him innocent, and yet he permits Him to submit to the most ignominious punishment that involves terrible physical suffering. For that Roman scourge was made of a number of thongs in which sharp pieces of metal were set every few inches so that when the scourge was brought down upon the bare back of the victim, the flesh was literally stripped into ribbons and the blood poured forth. Why cause an innocent Man, an admittedly innocent Man, to submit to suffering like that? It was because Pilate wanted to appease the Jews. He wanted their favor even though it meant that the Man whom he had pronounced innocent should have to suffer. On the other hand, he hoped that the accusers of Christ would be satisfied with this punishment.
The soldiers having carried out the scourging “plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe” (v. 2)—some old discarded garment. Thus they decked Him up as a pretended king and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 3), and they smote Him with their hands. How little they realized that though what they did was done in sport, the day would come when before that Blessed One every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord of all, and when He will indeed be acclaimed as King of the Jews as well as King of all the nations of the earth. For in God’s purpose it is declared that eventually Jew and Gentile will recognize in Him the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
“Pilate,” we are told, “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” (v. 4). This reiterated the judgment already given. “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (v. 5). In his own conscience he knows that Christ should go free, but debates within himself what is to be done, how to placate these ruthless persecutors! And, doubtless, back of it all was the thought of the insecurity of his own position. Pilate had done many things that had aroused the antagonism of the Jews, and there was always a party working against him to unseat him as governor of Judea. And so he presents Christ again and cries, “Behold the man!” One would have thought the sight of that patient, suffering One standing there with the thorny crown pressed on His brow, the purple robe on Him with a reed in His hand, and blood pouring down his face would have been enough to soften the hardest heart and break down the strongest opposition. But there is that in the heart of the natural man that leads him to hate that which is holy, to hate perfect righteousness.
Many years ago at a great meeting of the Synod of the Free Church of Scotland, one minister was asked to preach the synodical sermon on Sunday morning. He gave a marvelously beautiful discourse on the beauty of virtue and wound up with a great peroration in which he exclaimed, “Oh, my friends, if virtue incarnate could only appear on earth, men would be so ravished with her beauty they would fall down and worship her.” People went out saying, “What a magnificent pulpit oration it was!”
But on the night of the same Lord’s Day, another minister stood in that pulpit and preached Christ and Him crucified. He closed his sermon with these words: “My friends, Virtue Incarnate has appeared on earth, and men instead of being ravished with His beauty and falling down and worshipping Him, cried out, ‘Away with him, crucify him!’ (John 19:15). ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’ (Luke 19:14)!” That tells the wickedness of the natural heart—of your heart, of my heart—for those Jews that day were but representative men. They were no different than any of us. “There is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). But they told out the hatred of the natural man to the holiness of God.
“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” (John 19:6). Think of it! For the third time this judge declares the innocence of the prisoner who stood before him, and yet he was himself utterly vacillating. Instead of standing for the innocent as justice should, he puts Him in the hands of His enemies.
“The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (v. 7). This is something it is well for us to remember—they had no delusions regarding the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. They understood perfectly by things He said that He meant men to know that He was indeed the Son of the living God. And because of that, they charged Him with blasphemy. If He had only meant that inasmuch as all men have been created by God, there is a certain sense in which all are His offspring, there would be no blasphemy in that according to their own standard. But they knew, they understood that He claimed equality with God as the Son of the Father who came from heaven and became incarnate here on earth. They charged Him, therefore, with blasphemy against the unity of the Godhead.
“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid” (v. 8). We are told that “the fear of man bringeth a snare” (Prov. 29:25), and this man, always politic, always concerned as to what others might think and what others might do, and what effect it might have upon him, was more afraid “and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou?” (v. 9). Was he now really concerned? A little while before he had asked the question, “What is truth?” and did not even wait for an answer. Now when he hears the charge, “He made himself the Son of God,” is he really a bit concerned? Is he saying in his heart, “Can it be that this strange Man before me is more than man, that there is something supernatural about Him?” Was he for the moment in earnest when he asked the question, “Whence art thou?”
At any rate, there was no evidence of repentance, there was no evidence of self-judgment, no evidence of integrity of heart. So Jesus gave him no answer. Had he been earnestly desirous of learning the truth, we may be absolutely certain Christ would have answered his question in such a way as to have made clear to him who He really was. But Jesus never answers the caviler. He never attempts to explain to the man who is determined to refuse the truth. He does not attempt to make clear the things that are dark to those who have no desire to submit themselves to the will of God. He says, “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). He knew that Pilate did not will to do the will of God. And Pilate was irritated because Jesus did not reply, because He stood there as predicted in Isaiah 53 where we read, “He is [led] as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (v. 7).
Then Pilate said unto Him, “Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10), and in that he spoke his own condemnation. But Jesus answered, “Thou couldest have no authority at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (v. 11a). He recognized that the powers that be are ordained of God, and Pilate, therefore, was set in that position as governor to do the will of God and to administer justice. “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” (v. lib). There are, then, differences in guilt, and Jesus is saying that the chief priests, Judas, and those who had to do with delivering Jesus over to judgment before Pilate were the guiltier. “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him” (vv. 11-12a). But he seeks to release Him in a way that will please the people. He is not ready to do the thing that he knows is right because it is right.
You and I need to face that question: Are we doing the thing that is right because we know it is right? Here is a man who all his life has known of the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows that he should open his heart to receive that Christ as his own personal Savior. Yet the years go by and he does not act upon his convictions. In what sense is he different from Pilate, this vacillating man, this man who hadn’t the courage of his convictions, this man who knew he should clear Jesus and yet eventually condemned Him to death? May we not ask ourselves the question: What is my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ today? Have I received Him? Am I confessing Him as Savior and Lord? The Scripture says: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Have you confessed Him? “Whosoever … shall confess me,” He says, “before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). And He solemnly adds, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (v. 33).
Pilate denied Him, and Pilate has to face that for eternity. What is our attitude? What is your attitude? Have you confessed Him? Will you today confess Him as your Savior and your Lord?
“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” (John 19:12). And were they such ardent admirers of Caesar as their words would seem to imply? Not at all. They hated the very name of Caesar and being under subjection to the Roman governor. They knew Pilate’s weak point. They knew he wanted to keep in favor with Caesar. “This Man is a traitor in opposition to the Roman Government. If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” And “when Pilate therefore heard that saying,” because he was a political opportunist rather than a conscientious judge, “he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him” (John 19:13-15a).
Now ironically Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your King?” (v. 15b) as though he would insult them to their faces, because deep in his heart he despised them as much as they hated him. And the chief priests, almost unthinkingly for the moment, I am sure, put themselves on record, “We have no King but Caesar” (v. 15c). And, oh, what they have suffered under the Caesars all through the centuries since.
Thus Pilate’s last effort to save Jesus was ended. “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified” (v. 16a). Pilate has sold his soul for the approval of the world. Take care that you do not do the same. For Jesus Himself has asked, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). “And they took Jesus, and led him away” (v. 16b). And so we see Him going out to die, to die as the Lamb of God for our sins. But, oh, thank God, for the untold millions who through the centuries since have found in Him a Savior, have found in His death redemption, and have found in His blood cleansing from all sin. A great host have already been gathered about Him in yonder glory to acclaim Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thousands more on earth love and honor Him.
But, alas, alas, Pilate is in the outside place! If we can trust early history, he died a suicide, still rejecting the One whom he had condemned to death that day in Jerusalem so long before.