[22]   Death 2: Roman Trial (18:28-19:16)


[E3]    18:28-19:16... The Roman trial

The objective of John’s record of this trial is to show that Pilate bore his testimony to the innocence of Jesus (18:38; 19:4,6). Pilate is shown to try very hard to release Jesus.

18:28   There was a Jewish law that cases involving the death sentence could not be held during the night. The priests might have held a session of the Sanhedrin after daybreak in order to give the trial the appearance of legality. It was probably between 6 am and 7 am.

The Jewish leaders would not enter the Praetorium (the residence of the Roman governor) lest they contracted defilement which would make themselves unable to keep the feast as the dwellings of gentiles were regarded as unclean and a defilement lasted seven days.

18:29   The governor was quite accommodating. Since the Jews did not go in, he came out to inquire.

18:30   They had no charge that would stand up in a Roman court of law so they did not answer Pilate’s question directly but simply used a vague charge of being “a criminal”, meaning “habitually doing wrong”.

18:31   Naturally Pilate did not accept this vague charge. If there was no offense against Roman law, then he would let the Jews deal with it themselves. But the Jews were determined to have Pilate pass the sentence that would lead to crucifixion.

18:32   Jesus’ prophecy was that He would be crucified. Now, Caiaphas’ determination to secure a crucifixion fulfilled the divine purpose. The reason for this decision was probably because of Dt 21:23 says: “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” While the Jews probably had the authority to stone Jesus, they needed a Roman sentence to perform crucifixion.

18:33   Pilate’s first question was: “Are you the king of the Jews?” where you is emphatic. From what he had been told, he was expecting a revolutionary, one who set himself up as a king.

18:35   Pilate’s did not know from his own knowledge about whether Jesus was a revolutionary or not. So his response was: “I am not a Jew, am I?” Then he singled out the chief priests.

18:36   Jesus’ reply was that it is not a kingdom as the world understood kingdom. Jesus then pointed out that His followers were not engaging in any military activity. The continuous tense means that otherwise they would be fighting at that moment.

18:37   Pilate’s comment was probably a question: “So you are a king?” with a note of irony. Jesus’ reply was: “It is your word, not mine” meaning “I didn’t say that, but if you put it that way I can scarcely say ‘No’!” Jesus came to bear witness to the truth, to point people to the real truth.

18:38   Pilate’s question ended the interview and he did not wait for an answer. Pilate had learned what he wanted to know. Jesus was no revolutionary and represented no danger to the Roman Empire. If Jesus was only concerned about truth, there was no need to take Him seriously. He might safely be released. Therefore he told the crowd that he had found no crime in Jesus.

18:39   Pilate wanted to use the Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover to release Jesus. His reference to Jesus as “the king of the Jews” was probably used deliberately to sway the Jews to release Him.

18:40   Barabbas means “son of Abba” or “son of the father”. He was a member of the resistance movement and a hero to many Jews. His name is probably recorded to evoke a comparison: one “son of the father” was released, the other “Son of the Father” was condemned.

19:1     This next passage (v.1-6a) recorded how Pilate had Jesus flogged, maltreated, mocked, and paraded before the mob. It was an attempt to induce the Jews to think that Jesus had been punished enough so that they would agree to release Him (Lk 23:16,22).

Scourging was a brutal punishment; it was inflicted by a whip of several thongs, each loaded with bone or metal. It could badly wound the body and men frequently died from such torture.

19:2     The soldiers plaited a garland of thorny material and crowned Jesus. The purple garment was worn by military officers and men in high positions. The mockery would have been aimed at the Jews generally rather than at Jesus specifically.

19:3     The three imperfect verbs indicate that the soldiers kept doing those things again and again. The acclamation “Hail, you King!” made it clear that they were mocking Jesus.

19:4     Pilate came out before Jesus and told the crowd that he could not find substance in the charges.

19:5     Pilate’s proclamation “Here is the man!” (sometimes translated “the poor man”) was in a contemptuous manner. He tried to show that it was impossible to take seriously any suggestion that this figure of scorn could have pretensions to kingship.

19:6     It was the chief priests and their officials who shouted loudly (also translated roared or yelled). Since the Jews had no authority to carry out crufixion, Pilate’s answer was simply a refusal: “If you are not going to listen to me, then crucify him yourselves -- if you can.”

19:7     The “law” clearly refers to the law of blasphemy (Lev 24:16).

19:8     Pilate was evidently superstitious. The news that the prisoner had made divine claims scared him. He was also affected by a message from his wife about her dream (Mt 27:19).

19:9     Pilate wanted to find out whether Jesus had any divinity claims.

19:11   Jesus asserted that God is over all and that an earthly governor could act only as God permitted him. The man with the “greater sin” was Caiaphas and the man with the “lessor sin” was Pilate.

19:12   From then on, Pilate was trying to release Jesus. “Caesar’s friend” was a general term for a loyal supporter of Rome. The Jews insisted that Jesus committed high treason by making Himself a king and therefore acted against Caesar. They threatened Pilate that if he released Jesus, they could bring a damaging accusation against him at Rome.

19:13   Sitting down on the judgment seat was a solemn preparation for the end of the case.

19:14   It was late morning. Pilate made a last-ditch effort to get the Jews to drop the proceeding by saying, “Here is your king!”

19:15   Pilate made yet another ineffectual protest: “Shall I crucify your king?” emphasizing “king”.

19:16   The crucifixion was carried out by the Romans as the Jews had no authority to carry out such a punishment. However, the word “they” (referring to the soldiers) gramatically refers to the chief priests. Perhaps it indicates that the chief priests were the ones who were responsible.


§         The Son of God willingly endured a whole night of many trials, maltreatment, and eventually the cruel death on the cross. Through all these, He could have terminated His sufferings but did not. Frequent reminder of this will build a more grateful heart to God’s love (like the hymn below).


Hymns of Life no.122 “When I survey the wondrous cross” (a wonderful hymn)

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ, my God,

All the vain things that charm me most

I sacrifice them to His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.