Summary: Who was really on trial? Jesus or Pilate?
The entire story seems to be about Pilate grappling with the issues of truth and justice. The entire story is also about the Jewish leaders and their pathetic and flagrant disregard for life and innocence. But the story is also about Jesus’ steadfast commitment to the people for whom he came. His undying love for humanity including those who put him to death. And his purposeful obedience to his father.
In Pilate’s heart it was obvious that in his heart he knew Jesus was innocent and not deserving to die but he lacked the political will to do the right thing. In their obstinate and hardened hearts, the Jews, even though unable/unwilling to accept Jesus as the Christ, they knew he was harmless and blameless. His life exuded a purity that could have withstood any test. But their morality could not provide them with the strength to overlook, forgive, move on. Jesus seems to just stand there saying little, even nothing at times, but his silence speaks loudly. He just seems to be pulling their tongues. John here, then, presents Christ in this story as the CHALLENGER.
To get the true sense of the story, you have to get a feel of what is happening in the Pilate’s halls. The Jews, led by Caiaphas the High Priest, are in a state of unrest; and are pressuring Pilate to act in their favour. Pilate is convinced that Jesus should be released but is aware that that kind of a decision could lead to civil unrest and riot. Jesus stands in quiet dignity and strength. Here he is not simply resigning to his fate, as someone helpless, instead he is aware of the divine drama, which is being played out, and he is participating in the most important plan, which has been crafted for the salvation of all mankind. Of course, all those who watch the events unfold either think they have won or feel bad that this nice guy should die. But John observes this event as one of the most definite signs, which prove Jesus as Messiah/The Christ.
John pays considerable attention to the Roman trial and provides details that are not given by the other gospel writers e.g. the exchange between Jesus and Pilate. At one and the same time he seems fascinated by the Jewish leaders all tripping over themselves to make their trumped up charges still; BUT he is disgusted that they should pay such scant regard to truth and justice. He therefore spends a good amount of time on the trial before Pilate because it both showed up the Jewish leaders at the same time that it showed God’s attention to carrying out his purposes in Salvation.
Three different people and three different motives in this one story. The desires of each party represent the ways in which we can face life, especially in ultimate situations.
1. JEWS WANTED BLOOD
1. Price on Jesus’ Head (charge).
Original charge was blasphemy against God.
Charge couldn’t stand up in a Roman court.
Resorted to a generality - “Wrong doer” - Habitually doing wrong
But the allegation was against his character and not an accusation of a specific crime.
They were unable to impose the capital punishment - hence they referred the matter to the Roman Courts.
**Difficulty e.g. Stephen who was stoned. Certainly could not crucify.
The Romans kept for themselves the right to impose the death penalty, but in exceptional situations, seemingly they “winked their eye” at executions done by the Jews if it had enough public support. In this situation the amount of popular support on which the priests could rely was very uncertain. Mark says ‘they themselves fear to arrest Jesus during the feast lest there be a riot (Mk. 14:2)
NB The Jews did not go into Pilate’s official residence because they feared being defiled and so render themselves unable to keep the feast of the Passover. The irony is that they were careful about defilement that would prevent them from taking part in a feast by they were unconcerned about taking part in judicial murder.
Determination to see his death
2. PILATE WANTED OUT
Takes the matter seriously and attempts to determine guilt for himself. Even more, he seemed to be trying to find the one piece of evidence that will seal the case shut without any opposition to his dismissing it.
Kingship becomes an issue “Are you the King”? Certainly he doesn’t look the part. To even intimate such a thing is ludicrous to Pilate.
Jesus want to know whose line of questioning it is? If it is Pilate’s, then he is asking about Political kingship and trying to determine whether he has his eye on Caesar’s throne. If it is Caiaphas, then the question is about Messianic kingship. Pilate’s answer tells that he is not concerned about political