By Dr. Ben Stubblefield
Visiting assistant professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
I Find No Fault
The Transfer (28–42)
The Praetorium was a military headquarters in which Roman officials would reside while visiting parts of the empire. They were particularly interested in being in Jerusalem for the feast days to tamp down any potential uprisings among Jews who gathered to commemorate their nationalism and independence. This scene unfolds from within the walls of Pilate’s headquarters.
John lays out the irony of Christ’s accusers. They went to great lengths to avoid ceremonial impurity so they could eat the Passover, while they manipulated the judicial system to crucify the real Passover Lamb. They were clean by the letter of the law but guilty of breaking it all.
Pilate had likely been briefed on the complaints the Jewish leaders had against Jesus, so it is interesting he asked them to provide a fresh hearing of the charges.
Perhaps this was to embarrass Jewish leadership, but more likely it demonstrated he was solely in charge of their legal system.
John portrays a Pilate who presumes he is in control of what happens with Jesus and in Jerusalem. But verse 32 serves as an indicator of God’s sovereign hand in Jesus’ death and in the Lord’s providence which governs all governors.
Perhaps the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus to die on the cross and not by stoning, for “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut. 21:23). They didn’t yet understand that their schemes would be turned to salvation, the Lord’s trial turned into triumph. He would absorb the curse so the world might know His blessing.
The Trial (33–38a)
Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The question is probably asked with both contempt and curiosity. He asks with contempt because he disrespects the Sanhedrin and suspects they went to this trouble to serve their own interests.
He knows they are trying to convince him Jesus is attempting an affront to Roman governance, and he will thus order His execution.
He asks with curiosity because he wants to understand the real reason Jesus has raised the Jewish leadership’s ire.
Jesus probes for the motive for Pilate’s question but clarifies in verse 36. Jesus is the king of a kingdom “not of this world.” He poses no direct threat to Rome. He is not engineering a struggle, army or fight. The Lord’s Kingdom affects this world, but His victory will not be won by the sword — it will be won by the gospel.
In verse 37, Jesus affirms His role as King and His mission to bring the truth of the gospel into the world. At the end of verse 37, Jesus, the prisoner, invites Pilate, the judge, to believe and follow Him — fascinating!
Pilate retorts with a curt question, but appears unconvinced of the Sanhedrin’s allegations.
The Trade (38b–40)
Jesus’ exchange with Pilate was enough to convince him that Jesus was a threat to the Sanhedrin, not the empire. He antagonizes the Jewish leaders, referring to Jesus as the King of the Jews, but Pilate grants their wish by offering a trade that appears to have been a custom of Rome during Passover season.
From Rome’s perspective, Barabbas was far more dangerous than Jesus (Mark 15:7). Yet Pilate would deliver him over. How ironic that the crowds call for the release of one who has committed sins while condemning the One who dies for them.
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