So far we have seen two of the four scenes that are in John’s passion story of Jesus. The first scene was Jesus’ arrest and it took place in garden. And the second scene was Jesus’ interrogation by Annas and Jesus’ response to this interrogation, and we also saw in this scene how Peter handled being interrogated by those who were his enemies. Today, we come to the third scene in John’s passion story of Jesus, which is Jesus’ trial before Pilate. This scene takes place in the Governor’s palace in the city of Jerusalem and is by far the longest the scene in John’s passion story of Jesus.
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.—18:28-32
Jesus’ trial before Pilate is the longest scene of John’s passion narrative. John notes that Jesus was sent to Caiaphas, but there is no report on what happened there. Pilate is now brought into the drama without any introduction. The Jews took Jesus to Pilate in the early morning. In Christian history, this day became known as Good Friday. The Jewish leaders would not enter the palace, because they were concerned about becoming ceremonially unclean, so Pilate went out to them. The Jewish leaders appear intentionally evasive and provocative in their response to Pilate’s question concerning Jesus’ crime. Pilate in turn wanted them to handle the matter according to their own laws. They responded that they did not have the legal right under Roman law to execute someone. Jesus was to die by crucifixion, the Roman method of execution.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”—18:33-37
After he heard the leaders’ demands for Jesus’ execution, Pilate went back inside the palace for his first conversation with Jesus. The theme of Jesus’ kingship is introduced. After Pilate asked Jesus a question, Jesus unexpectedly turned the tables on Pilate and interrogated him. The conversation reveals that Jesus’ kingdom is a different kind of kingdom than Pilate had ever known. Earthly kingdoms are defended by soldiers and fighting, but Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual kingdom over the hearts and lives of his people. And there are three points concerning the true nature and purpose of Christ’s kingdom that should be noted:
- What Jesus’ kingdom is not: It is “not of this world.” It did not originate in this world, and its purpose is not to take over the world’s system. Jesus did not come to establish a political theocracy (a government ruled by a religious body or a particular view of God) or aim for world control. Jesus states that if he had come to establish a political kingdom on earth then, “my servants would fight.” Since this is not the nature of his kingdom, they do not resort to military war or revolution to promote Christ’s purpose on earth. They do not align themselves with political parties, social pressure groups or any secular organizations in order to establish God’s kingdom and purposes on earth. They refuse to use their power gained through Jesus’ victory on the cross as a proud attempt to rule society. Rather than using worldly weapons, Jesus’ followers are armed only with spiritual weapons. This does not mean, however, that Christians should avoid participating in government or social action. They are still responsible to uphold God’s demand for justice peace and restraints against lawlessness. By their gracious words and blameless and honorable lifestyles, Christians should change governments and societies regarding their moral responsibilities to God.
- What Jesus’ kingdom is: Christ’s kingdom—or the kingdom of God—involves his power, authority, purposes and spiritual activity in the lives of all who receive him and obey his Word. The kingdom of God is a matter of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Christ’s kingdom is in active battle against the spiritual forces of Satan, using spiritual weapons. The role of the church is that of a servant to Jesus Christ, not that of a ruler over this present world. The church’s strength is not in worldly power but in the cross. When God’s people suffer rejection and persecution at the hands of the world, it is really an honor because they are identifying with Christ. Only by rejecting world power did the New Testament church find God’s power. Christ’s followers today face this same choice in their individual lives: only by losing their lives in the world will they find their highest purpose in God.
- What Jesus’ kingdom will be: In the future, Christ’s kingdom will involve his rule and reign in the new heaven and earth. This will occur after he returns to earth following the tribulation period to judge the nations, destroy the antichrist and reign on earth for a thousand years. He will then bring Satan to a final end in the lake of fire.
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.—18:38-40
Pilate concluded his interrogation with a sarcastic question about truth. Outside to the crowd, Pilate declared Jesus innocent. He reminded them of the custom that a prisoner be released during the Passover celebration. He assumed that the crowds would ask for Jesus; however, the present crowd (consisting primarily of the Sanhedrin and their followers at this early hour) cried out for the revolutionary bandit Barabbas to be released. And that is where we will pick tomorrow as we conclude this third scene in John’s passion story of Jesus.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Kings 6-7, Acts 15:36-16:15, Psalm 142:1-7 and Proverbs 17:24-25
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