Jesus Before Pilate
Journey to the Empty Tomb
Jesus Before Pilate
John 18:28-38
 
I have entitled our current study from John 18, 19 and 20 a “Journey to the Empty Tomb”.  But a more accurate description would be a study of the majesty of Jesus Christ.
 
It seems in every paragraph, John adds more evidence to the pile to acquaint us with the deity Of Christ.  In fact, if you read the entire gospel, you will find that is the primary concern of John, that Jesus be seen and known and recognized as God in the flesh. 
 
And to that end he constantly magnifies Christ. And here in these chapters where we find the betrayal and arrest and denial and the mockeries of trials, when man is at his very worst in regard to Jesus, we see Christ at His best. 
 
This morning we come to the trial before Pilate.  I think I mentioned to you last week that there were two trials. First, there was a religious trial consisting of three parts, an arraignment before Annas followed by a meeting with Caiaphas, the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night and then another appearance before them after daybreak.
 
After that, He went to the civil trial which also had three phases.  First he appeared before Pilate and Pilate didn't know what to do so he sent Jesus over to Herod who was the tetrarch of Galilee who happened to be down in Jerusalem at the time.
Herod didn't know what to do with Him either so he sent Him back to Pilate. So there you have the three phases of the civil trial.  
 
We will take a look at the first phase of the civil trial this morning from John 18:28 to 38
 
Text
 
Now it seems to me there are a couple of different ways to read the narrative of the trials and crucifixion.  One of these is to simply wee it as historical narrative.  And that’s not wrong or bad.  In fact, I think that’s where we should always begin.  We need to be aware of what was happening and how it played out. 
 
But beyond that, it seems to me the power of the narrative is seen best in the interaction between the personalities involved. In this particular section that would be Jesus, Pilate and the Jewish leaders.
 
Now to best understand the scene before us, we need to know a little about the Jewish leaders.  The references that you see in this text to the “Jews” are not talking about the Jewish population in general. Rather it is referencing the Jewish religious leadership. And they had a real problem when it came to executing Jesus.   
 
As you know, at the time Jesus lived, the nation of Israel was under Roman bondage.  That chapped the hide of the Jewish leaders, to say the least. 
 
 
 
Now things could have been a lot worse for them.  Under Roman rule they were allowed a certain degree of selfgovernment.  They were given religious freedom.  They could even operate their own judicial system with the exception that they could not practice capital punishment.  They were prohibited from executing their prisoners. 
 
Now in their Law, given by God, they were given the right to exercise capital punishment as a deterrent to sin and crime. But under Roman rule, that right had been taken away.  So consequently, in the case of Jesus, that was up to the sole discretion of the Roman authorities. 
 
So even though they had long ago plotted to kill Jesus, and even if though could have come up with substantial and valid accusations, they still couldn’t carry out his death because of Roman rule. 
 
And even though we are short on time and long on information, I want you to know how that requirement came about.  The Talmud says it wasn’t until 40 years before the destruction of the temple that judgment in matters of death was taken away from the people of Israel. So if the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. it wasn't until 30 A.D. that Israel lost the right of execution. That would be right around the time of the execution of Jesus Christ.
 
Why is that important?  Only because God said Christ would die by Gentile hands.  And even though it was a Jewish plot, it was a Gentile execution. Jesus Christ was also to be lifted up and hanged on a tree. All of that was prophesied. 
And the pictures and types of Christ of the Old Testament all had crucifixion written all over them.  Had Jesus been sentenced to die any time prior to the Roman rule, which took away the right of execution, Jesus would not have been crucified or lifted up.  He would have bend stoned. 
 
According to Leviticus 24:16, that was the penalty for blasphemy.  That means prophecy would have gone unfulfilled.  And if one prophecy had been unfulfilled, Jesus would have been a liar, the Old Testament would have been inaccurate and you could throw your Bible away. 
 
But God moved history so that just prior to the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, the law changed, the right of execution passed into the hands of the Romans and thus Jesus was to die at the hands of the Gentiles just as had been prophesied centuries before. So, the Jews are prominent in this drama because they are required by law to bring Jesus to Pilate.
 
Now Roman court opened at sunrise and closed at sunset. So they got Him over there as soon as they could and the Bible tells us in verse 28 very simply, they led Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment, or the Praetorium and it was early morning. 
 
Now, the Holy Spirit puts that in there for a very important reason. That is to remind us that this was a hurryup operation. They wanted to get it over with and get Him in the hands of the Romans for execution before the people found out what was going on.
And if you want a little commentary on the hypocrisy of the Jews, then read the remainder of verse 28.
 
They are about to kill their Messiah, but they don’t want to defile themselves by entering the house of a Gentile.  They had things a little confused, don’t you think?  By the way, there was no such law in the Old Testament that prohibited a Jew from partaking of Passover if he had been in the house of a Jew. 
 
So they provide for us a classic illustration of hypocrisy. Here you get a magnificent picture of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. Here is a classic illustration of whitened sepulchers on the outside and inside full of dead men's bones.
 
They are so careful not to break the little tiny nitpicky legalistic meaningless rule that they have made while they're willing to murder their own Messiah.
 
Next we have Pilate.  He’s an interesting character.  He was an appointed governor of Palestine.  As such he had limited power.  He couldn’t raise taxes. He could not accept bribes. He was to rule fairly and justly and he was to rule on behalf of the Roman emperor.
 
He began his reign with a confrontation with the Jews regarding the image of Caesar.  The Jews saw it as a graven image and idol worship and confronted Pilate with removing it, which he eventually did.  Even though he threatened to kill them, they wouldn’t give in and Pilate finally relented, leaving him under their thumb.
 
When Jerusalem needed more water supply, he robbed the temple treasury to build an aqueduct which led to a riot and the slaughter of many Jews.     
 
Later in Pilate's career the argument about idols came up again when Pilate hung shields with the picture of the Emperor.  The Jews complained and eventually appealed to the Emperor himself and got the images removed. 
 
So the Jews had Pilate right where they wanted him. They could report him and turn him into Rome and he would lose his job. He was on thin ice.
 
So when they came to Pilate and presented to him their desire to have Jesus executed, they were actually blackmailing him.  In effect, they were saying, “You better go along with us, Pilate, or we'll tell Caesar.”
 
Remember what they said to him?
 
John 19:12
 
If you want to keep your job, the you better go along with us.  And the dilemma in which Pilate finds himself is to refuse to execute an innocent man or protect himself.  And we all know which he chose. He stands for all time as the prototype of cowards.
 
Now, that’s all introduction.  Let’s get into the meat of this text, and I will tell you it is prime-cut, grade A, #1 choice grade because beginning in verse 29,  John introduces to us seven magnificent characteristics of Christ and he weaves them through the narrative of the trial. 
We won’t have time to go into great detail, but they are fairly easy to understand and need very little explanation.  And keep in mind, here is Jesus being humiliated in a mock trial before a pretend judge on the world’s stage, and yet what we discover is Christ exalted in seven ways.
 
First, we see Him as
 
1. Sinless Man
 
verses 29-30
 
Immediately the Jews have a problem because they didn’t want a trial.  They wanted an execution and now Pilate is messing it up.  So they offer this very subtle reply.
 
They simply skirt the issue. There was no answer. There was no accusation. And what that reveals is that Jesus was the perfect man.
 
I promise you if they had known anything they would have spilled their guts.  They had carefully scrutinized His life.  They had examined everything He did to try to find something wrong.  And what they found was absolutely nothing. 
 
They didn't have one single accusation to bring against Jesus. Eventually they bring the charge of blasphemy. He claims to be God.  Now that might be a Jewish offense, but it wasn’t a Roman crime and the Romans aren't going to execute anybody for claiming to be God.
 
 
Now all of that appears to be a simple court record of what took place before Pilate, but subtly woven in these two verses, John presents to us the perfect, sinless Son of God. 
 
There are no accusations. They don't have a thing to say because there He stands, the Perfect Man. He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 
 
Secondly, He was not only perfect man, He was
 
2. Sovereign God
 
verses 31-32
 
If we were to back up a few days before these events, we would find that when Jesus announced to His disciples that they were going to Jerusalem they couldn’t believe it.  In fact, they were scared to death. 
 
And Mark tells us that He took them aside and told them once again what was about to happen. 
 
Listen to how Mark records that. 
 
Mark 10:33-34
 
And that's exactly what's happened. He predicted it to the very letter. He included every detail.  How did He know that?  Only because He was Sovereign God in the flesh walking along the road with them. 
 
Now with that in mind, look at verse 31 again. 
 
It seems to me that Pilate has just given them the right of execution.  In essence He says,, If you want the guy dead, then just go kill Him.”
 
But they say, “We can’t. That's against the law.” Now this is the same Jesus they tried to stone already on several occasions and now they're not willing to kill Him. Why not?
 
They could have grabbed Jesus and taken Him out and stoned Him. So why in the world didn't they do it?"
 
The answer is found in verse 32.
 
What statement was that?
 
John 12:32
 
"And I," Jesus says, "if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto Me. This He said signifying what death He should die."  What kind of death would it be that lifts Him up? A death on the cross.
 
Had He been killed by the Jews, they would have stoned Him.  So why didn’t they?  Only because He had prophesied that He would die lifted up and the Jews and Pilate and everyone else are being moved around and making their decisions like pawns on a chess board under the Sovereign hand of Almighty God. 
 
And so, Jesus is not only Sinless Man, He's Sovereign God. He predicts the future and it comes to pass exactly as He says.  
 
Third, He is the
3.  Spiritual King
 
verses 33-37
 
The Jews finally came up with an accusation. They figured it all out and here we've got one that will stick.  Luke gives us the details.  They accuse Him of perverting the nations, leading His followers to withhold taxes and claiming to be a king.
 
The attempt is to present Him as a revolutionary who is leading a rebellion against Rome and set Himself up as King. 
 
So after hearing the accusation, Pilate goes in to speak with Jesus.  And in verse 33, if you look at it in the original Greek construct, is just filled with ridicule. 
 
"You, are You the king of the Jews?" Is this a joke? You don't mean that they're accusing You of being a king? There's Jesus, meek, mild, silent, in the robes of a peasant, all alone, calm, His hands bound. He doesn't look a lot like a king. In terms of an earthly kingship He has no resemblance.
 
This is unbelievable to Pilate. Are they kidding me? I mean, where's Your army? Where's Your throne and Your crown?  You don't look like a king.
 
Now, what's Jesus going to say? If He says, “Yes, I'm a king”, then Pilate's got a problem because in Pilate's mind a king is only an earthly king and Pilate's thinking of a king leading the Jews in an insurrection. And if Jesus says, “Yes, I'm a king”, then Pilate will have cause to accuse Him of a crime. 
If He says, “No, I'm not a king”, then He's denied His kingship. So He can't just say yes and He can't just say no. 
 
So look at how Jesus handles it.
 
verse 34
 
Who you asking this for? In other words, let's just define the issue. Are you asking this as a Roman? Are you asking Me if I'm a political reactionary? Is this your own thing or did somebody report to you that I claim to be a king?
 
Pilate’s response is in verse 35
 
There are a lot of people who try to say the Romans killed Jesus for being a political revolutionary.  Not according to Pilate.  Pilate says, “This isn't our accusation; Rome isn't accusing You of this.”
 
In fact, later on he’ll say, "I find no fault in this man." This wasn’t a Roman problem.  This was a Jewish accusation. 
 
So understanding He's not a threat to the Roman government and that it’s the Jews who are upset, Pilate asks, “What have You done?”
 
And Jesus doesn't answer that question.  Instead, He starts talking about His Kingdom.  It’s as if Pilate understands that He is not a political King so Jesus says, “Let me explain to you what kind of King I am.
 
Verse 36
 
 
Jesus says, “Yes I am a King, but My Kingdom is not of this world. There are lots of earthly kings; I'm not one of them.”
 
Jesus is a King in a class all Himself.  It is His Kingdom as opposed to all other kingdoms. Three times He uses the phrase, “My kingdom”. And He specifically mentions that it is not of this world.
 
What does He mean by that?  That means it didn't grow out of the system. It didn’t originate like earthly kingdoms. He refused to be appointed King by men.  He didn't want to be made a King by men.  In fact, He didn’t need to be made King by man.  He was already a King. But His Kingdom was spiritual.
 
And when it says His Kingdom was not out of this world, He's simply saying My Kingdom does not have its origin in the human realm.
 
Now, Pilate was right when he saw nothing in Jesus to resemble an earthly king, but he was wrong when he then concluded that Jesus wasn't a King. He was a King.  Indeed He is a King. Revelation 11:15 says that He shall reign and rule over every nation and that He shall be King of kings and Lord of lords.
 
There is coming a day when every knee will bow and tongue confess Him as King.  But it’s not earthly; far above and beyond it.    
 
And notice how Jesus proves that He's not an earthly king.
 
Verse 36
 
If I wanted a kingdom in this world I wouldn't be standing here.  I would be fighting for I believe in.   Pilate at the best only had three thousand troops at his disposal.  Jesus could have easily gathered a multitude of Jews and knocked them off if He had wanted to.
 
But Jesus says, “My Kingdom isn't out of this world.  It doesn't come from here and it doesn’t like it comes from here.”
 
And I find especially interesting the statement He makes regarding the Jews. 
 
Verse 36
 
Isn't that strange? The Jews said He claims to be their king but Jesus says they're my enemy. He couldn't be the king of the Jews, but He is a King.
 
So what kind of a King is He? Pilate couldn't figure it out. Pilate only knows He's no earthly king. He's got that figured out.
 
Verse 37
 
If you are king, then what kind of King are you because all I understand about being a king is being a king like I know being a king. So what kind of a king are You, or are You one at all?
 
And I love how Jesus answers. 
 
Verse 37
 
And in that statement, Jesus claimed to be a King. That's the confession Jesus made before Pilate. That He was indeed a King.
 
He is a supernatural King. Not of this world, not of the natural world.  There He stands, Sinless Man, Sovereign God, and Supernatural King. 
 
Then, in verse 37, we see Him fourthly as
 
4. Supernatural Human
 
verse 37
 
When He says, “For this cause I born," He’s talking about His humanness.  And notice the next phrase “For this cause I came into the world”.  Why does He include that statement?  Why wasn’t it enough to just mention being born? 
 
The implication is “to come into the world” means you had to be somewhere to come from.  To be born is human but to come into the world indicates pre-existence.  So where was He before He came into the world? 
 
John tells us in the opening verses of this book that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”  Later in 17:5, He says: "Father, glorify Me with the glory that I had with You before the world began." "
 
And what He’s saying is “I was pre-existent”.  Listen, He was human, but don’t ever lose sight of the fact that He was a supernatural human!
 
He’s talking about God becoming a human. Jesus is claiming to be incarnate God. It's a powerful claim. I love the fact that John makes sure we know that He said: "I came into the world" because before the world began, He was there.  And in that one brief statement, Jesus claims eternal pre-existence.
 
Then we see that He's not only a Sinless Man, Sovereign God, a Spiritual King and a Supernatural Human, He is also a
 
5. Speaker of Truth
 
Notice how verse 37 continues. 
 
The reason He came to the world is because men needed to know the truth about God.  You want to know where truth is and what truth looks like and sounds like? Then look at Jesus who said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."
 
Jesus said: "If you continue in My words, then are you My disciples indeed and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."  That verse is misapplied in so many ways.  We use it to talk about being free from drugs or alcohol or free from sin or some kind of bondage.  Those may be fringe benefits of knowing the truth, but primarily to know the truth means you are made free from the search for truth.
 
Jesus said, "I came into the world to bear witness to the truth." What truth? The truth about God, the truth about men, the truth about sin, the truth about judgment, the truth about love, the truth about holiness, the truth about life, death, the truth about everything. And when you know Jesus you know the truth because Jesus came to proclaim the truth.
What an offer to those of us trying to live in a world of lies! All around us there are competing doctrines and beliefs.  They all claim to be right.  And amidst all that chaos, Jesus stands to speak the Truth of God. 
 
But Pilate was like a lot of folks today.  He was cynical, so notice how he responds. 
 
verse 38
 
It’s as if he says, Truth?  Does truth really exist?  I've been looking for truth all my life.  There is no truth.”
 
And yet the absolute Eternal Truth of God was standing there before Him. 
 
Sixthly, Jesus is the  
 
6. Solitary Voice
 
 Listen to the invitation Jesus extends to Pilate at the end of verse 37
 
As I said a moment ago, a lot of people claim to know the truth and have the answers.  But Jesus said, “If any really knows truth, it’s because they’ve been listening to Me.  They hear my voice.”
 
What does it mean "to hear?" The Greek word is to listen intently and obey. There's no such thing as knowing the truth unless you obey Jesus.  He is Truth. He is God revealed to men and there's no truth outside of Him.  And, by the way, He’s the only one that has it. 
 
That means He and He alone is the Solitary Voice of Truth in the world.  And it’s as if He extends this invitation to Pilate.  “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  It’s as if He says, "Pilate, you can know truth if you listen and obey Me."
 
Back in John 10, Jesus says in regard to His sheep, "My sheep hear My voice," and what do they do? "They follow Me." That's the evidence of a true believer.
 
In John 8, Jesus had a big crowd following and many believed on His name.  But listen to what He said to this crowd of “believers”:
 
"If you continue in My Word then you are My disciples for real." The only way you'll ever know truth is to know Jesus Christ. And all who know truth know it in Him for outside of Him there is no truth.
 
One final thing.  He is Sinless Man, Sovereign God, Spiritual King, Supernatural Human, Speaker of Truth, Solitary Voice and  
 
7. Spotless Savior
 
verse 38
 
When it was all said and done, there's no accusation against Jesus.  He is the Spotless Savior.  There is no indictment at the beginning.  There is no conviction at the end. Accused, maligned, hated and ridiculed, but perfect and spotless, He is declared and proven faultless.
 
 
So we come full circle.  Jesus is as pure at the end as He was at the beginning. There's nothing to hold against Him. He is the Sinless Man the Sovereign God, the Spiritual King, the Supernatural Human, the Speaker of Truth, the Solitary Voice and the Spotless Savior. 
 
I hope you see Him that way and I pray you respond to Him differently than did Pilate.
 
Let's pray.
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