A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

John 19:1-18 - The Gospel of John

Bible study

Introduction

Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

John 19:1-18

The trial of Jesus before the Roman governor, Pilate, is continued in this section of John’s Gospel. We will see how the Jewish religious leaders had already decided that he must be put to death though there had been no evidence presented to show him guilty of any crime. Pilate wanted to know what their grounds of accusation were, but all was too vague and non-specific. His dilemma as a judge is seen in this narrative and how he made a decision against the convictions of his own conscience. We can imagine it was a decision he would have lived to regret for the rest of his life.

Verse 1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged.

Pilate had given the crowd the chance to set Jesus free but they preferred to have Barabbas released. Now Pilate had no more alternatives. He gave the order to have Jesus whipped, perhaps in the hope that the people may have been satisfied with that. It was a cruel process. They would have lashed his bare back until the sharp bone in the thong tore the flesh to pieces.

Verses 2 & 3 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head. They clothed Him in a purple robe and went up to Him again and again, saying, ‘Hail, O King of the Jews.’ And they struck Him in the face.

The careless Roman soldiers saw in this a chance to bully, to make sport of a helpless prisoner. The crown and the purple were to make a mockery of His claim to be a king.
One by one they came up to Him again and again with their sneering greeting, adding a slap across His face.

Pontius Pilate
Detail from Hungarian painter Mihály Munkácsy's 1881 painting of Christ in front of Pontius Pilate

Verses 4 & 5 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, ‘Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him.’ When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man.’

Once more we can see the indecision of Pilate. He desperately wants to get out of this situation. Condemning the innocent didn’t come easily to this ruler, despite his reputation as a hard man. In introducing Jesus seemingly dressed as a king, maybe he thought the people might show some mercy. Little did Pilate see what believers see in Him. The Man as God’s Ideal, the perfect man, the God-man.

Verse 6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw Him, they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify! But Pilate answered ‘You take Him and crucify Him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him.

It was the religious establishment that was pitted against Jesus. Nothing would change their minds. Still Pilate could not bring himself to grant their wish. He wanted to be left out of the process of judgment and condemnation. The offer for them to crucify Him themselves was empty as the Jews were unable to do it under Roman rule.

Verse 7 The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God.’

Their call now was that of blasphemy against God rather than treason against Rome. They saw His claim to be the Son of God as a claim to be equal with God, something that Jesus did not deny.

Verses 8-10 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’

Notice Pilate’s very real panic at this point. He wonders if this man is more than a little unusual. He has given that distinct impression so far. Just who am I dealing with, Pilate wonders. Jesus’ refusal to tell him makes his misgivings stronger. So he coaxes Him to reply. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Pilate’s wife sent him a message of warning to have nothing to do with this innocent man because she had had a dream about him (Matt 27:19).

Verse 11 Jesus answered ‘You have no power over Me that was not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’

In saying this, Jesus was not denying Pilate’s authority. He was simply pointing out that proper legal process had not been followed prior to this trial. His accusers were the ones who wanted injustice done.

Verse 12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’

Pilate had now become even more anxious to free Jesus, but the accusers were going wild.
They tried to appeal to Pilate’s sense of loyalty and commitment to the cause of the Roman Empire. At some point, Pilate sent Jesus to King Herod, hoping to escape having to make the final verdict (Luke 23: 7).

Verses 13-15 When Pilate heard this he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as The Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).
It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king,’ Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted ‘Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered.

This whole so-called trial had reached a stalemate. Pilate was getting nowhere. He had trouble on his hands that he couldn’t cope with. He could see a threat to his own position if this sparked a rebellion. He desperately needed a way out but couldn’t see one. Matthew tells us that Pilate took a bowl of water and washed his hands in front of the people saying that he was innocent of the man’s blood (Matt 27:24).

Verse 16 Finally, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified.

Against his better judgment, Pilate acted. No doubt he tried to put a clamp on his conscience which had told him all along that these Jews had acted out of envy. His decision amounted to a tragic surrender of principle, a cowardly cave-in to pressure, a mean retreat into self-preservation. In no way was he innocent of Jesus’ blood. He had the decision lying at his door. He deliberately defiled his conscience.
We don’t know very much at all about Pilate’s future from this point, but we can be certain that life was downhill for him from then on. He would have been unable to remove the sight of Jesus’ face from his memory. He would have gone on wondering just who was this man, especially after the reports he would have heard about darkness in the daytime, an earthquake and reports of a resurrection.

Verses 17 & 18 So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying His own cross, he went out to The Place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others--one on either side and Jesus in the middle.

Probably it was at the base of a small rise on the edge of the city of Jerusalem that Jesus was nailed hands and feet with a criminal on either side of Him. At least He was in the centre. He should always be central. Importantly, in our lives. He is our only hope for forgiveness. His suffering was in our place, for our sake.

CONCLUSION

Pilate asked at one point ‘What will I do with Jesus?’ We should ask that too.

Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall,
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all,
Listen, what means this sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be,
Some day your heart will be asking
What will he do with me?