Summary: God through Pilate gives Israel one last chance before consigning the nation to perpetual judgment. Their abject rejection meant the loss of the nation ethnically and opened the door to all who will believe to become God's chosen people.
One Last Chance
Last week we saw Pilate pronounce three times that he found no guilt in Jesus and tried to get Jesus released. First he tried to get the crowd to choose Barabbas. Then he tried the sympathy approach by having Jesus beaten up a bit and mocked by the Roman soldiers.
In his discussion with Jesus, it seems that Jesus was actually witnessing to Pilate. This was not an attempt on Jesus’ part to get off the hook. He could have called the 10,000 angels to deliver Him or simply spoken the Word and walked out. It was for Pilate's sake that Jesus had borne witness of the truth.
Pilate, who ordinarily acted in the most ruthless of matter was completely taken back by the presence of Jesus. But Pilate could not come up with the courage to stand up to the accusations of the Jews and released Jesus outright.
Exposition of the Text
v. 8. The hostile reaction of the Jews surprised Pilate. But what made Pilate really anxious is thet the Jewish hostility to Jesus was based on Jesus' claim to be the Son of God. The Romans had petty kings doing their bidding. King Herod had been one of these puppets. Pilate would not have seen the title "King of the Jews" to have been a threat to Roman authority if the type of kingdom was the one described by Jesus Himself, as not being of this world. As long as Jesus did not advocate the overthrow of Rome, and the Jews did not create a riot which resulted in bloodshed, Pilate did not feel threatened.
But now the claim of "Son of God" was entirely a different matter. Pilate, in order to be appointed Governor of Judaea had to make an oath of allegiance to Caesar. When Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate, there were "eyewitnesses" who claimed that they say Julius Caesar rise into heaven as a god. This would make his adopted son Augustus, the "son of god" in the view of the Romans. When Augustus died, "witnesses" claimed that they saw him ascend into heaven as a god. This would make Augustus' adopted son, Tiberius, "the son of god". When He heard the claim made by the Jews that Jesus had said that He was the "Son of God" it would have been seen by Pilate as a claim that Jesus was not just the king of a puppet regime of Rome but a claim to be the Emperor of Rome in direct opposition to Tiberius. This was dangerous.
v. 9. Pilate had to have an answer from Jesus on this. He asks Jesus almost pleadingly, "Where are you from?" Pilate had completely lost control of the situation. Pilate was now being forced to make a decision about Jesus which was far deeper than whether to crucify Him or not. To decide for Caesar and against Jesus was an extreme threat to Pilate's soul. But to decide for Jesus would jeopardize not only Pilate's position as governor, bu Pilate's own life as well. The Jewish people had to decide between two Messiah figures, Jesus and Barabbas. Now Pilate was having to decide "Which Son of God do I choose?"
v. 10. Jesus made no answer to Pilate’s plea. He felt he had the power to "save Jesus" and was doing everything in his power to do so. But Jesus was not being helpful to him at all. Pilate is emphatic when he says "Don't You answer me anything at all?" But Pilate is making a mistake that all too many people have made over the centuries. They have tried to "save Jesus". We are always trying to save His reputation and to defend Him and the Christian faith. Might I suggest here that it is Pilate, not Jesus, who needs to be saved. Jesus needs to be proclaimed and acclaimed, not defended. Jesus needs no apology.
Pilate finally asks Jesus in total frustration to answer. The gist of what Pilate says is: "Don't you know who I am? I am the Governor of Judaea, appointed under the authority to the divine Emperor Tiberius? As his representative here, I have all of the authority of the Emperor to either release you or crucify you?
v. 11. Jesus answer was absolutely brazen. This was not the answer of a wimp pleading for his life. In the power dynamics of this conversation, it is absolutely clear that Jesus is in control. There is a interesting comparison to this confrontation and the confrontation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in Chapter 4 of the gospel. Here an exhausted Jesus who seemed to be completely at the mercy of a Samaritan woman for life saving water turns the table on the Samaritan woman when he asks the woman, "Go call your husband." And here Jesus, who seems to be helpless and at the mercy of Pilate for a life saving pardon actually turns the table on Pilate. His answer to Pilate is essentially: "You've got is all wrong, Pontius. Your authority does not come from Tiberius. It comes from God. You are the one who is helpless here, not me. Like the woman at the well was truly the one who needed the living water, it is you Pontius, who needs the pardon.