Study Notes for John 19:1-16a: ‘Behold the Man’

Here are my (rough) notes for John 19:1-16a. As a side note, there aren’t as many written out parallels with Is. 53 as I will likely reference tomorrow while teaching this. I will not be back to teach for another two weeks. In the meantime, I hope these notes are edifying to you, and that you see the sovereign hand of God in every step of Jesus’ final hours before death.

ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri
ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri

John Chapter 19

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. [2] And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. [3] They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

As we read these words, those of Jesus come to mind: “For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:32-33)

I just note this passage again, as I did previously, and as I will do in the future, because as these things happen to Jesus I want to keep in the forefront of our minds that Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him. The “flogging”, the “mockery” and the “shameful” treatment is already taking place. The rest is soon to come.

With that in mind, a few notes on what was going on here. The flogging of someone who wasn’t proven guilty was pretty common. In America in the 21st century, we have this concept of being presumed innocent until proven otherwise. What is so despicable about so much of the media attention that surrounds modern trials is that in the minds of the public innocence and guilt is obscured, and justice is whatever people’s emotions dictate. This is what is means to make a “mockery” of justice.

What we are seeing here is mockery at its zenith.

Of course the purple robe is intended to signify royalty or importance. Purple was expensive, and was held in high regard. In Acts 16 we read of a lady named Lydia who was a clothier of some kind, and Luke goes out of this way to mention that she dealt with “purple” cloth:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:11)

By looking at this fact, and the other clues in the passage, Pastor Matt Chandler says its safe to assume Lydia was a wealthy, successful lady who catered to the upper class (that final part is my own assumption).

The crown of thorns, and what kind of bush these came from, is a subject of debate. Easton’s Bible Dictionary takes the view that the thorns were not very long or painful, but could be easily made into the crown described by John and the other gospel writers:

…our Lord was crowned with a, in mockery by the Romans (Matt. 27:29). The object of Pilate’s guard in doing this was probably to insult, and not specially to inflict pain. There is nothing to show that the shrub thus used was, as has been supposed, the spina Christi, which could have been easily woven into a wreath. It was probably the thorny nabk, which grew abundantly round about Jerusalem, and whose flexible, pliant, and round branches could easily be platted into the form of a crown.

Fausset seems to agree upon the pliable nature, though not the type of plant:

Christ’s “crown of thorns” has been supposed to have been made of the Ramnus nabeca (Hasselquist) or the Lycium spinosum, probably the latter (Sieber). To mock rather than to pain Him was the soldiers’ object, and they took whatever came to their hand first. The dark green was a parody of the triumphal ivy wreath.

Whatever the nature of the crown, it made a mockery of the kingship of Jesus. And I am personally reminded that those who suffer mockery for the sake of Jesus will eventually win the “crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Lastly, and I was struck by this, the Romans struck Jesus with their hands. I really think that at this point they weren’t working to inflict pain as much as make a mockery of Him. I began to think about the thoughts and emotions that go through a person’s mind before inflicting any kind of blow upon another person. Usually human beings react in anger to being hurt, or are defending their honor or another’s before taking a swing at someone. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. These men have not been wronged by Jesus, nor have they likely even heard of Him before. To them, He’s just another Jew.

What do I bring this up? Because it displays the nature of mankind. Man is in a depraved and evil state from birth. His nature is twisted, and his motives are selfish and turned against his Maker. Environment (so-called “nurture”) can lessen or increase the outward effects of sin, but it’s effects are there on the heart – branded, as it were, from birth.

Ironically, these are the types of men Jesus came to save. He came to save us from ourselves.

NOTE: There is a lot of debate among the scholars as to the nature of the beating administered here. There were three grades of beating (cf. Carson) that the Romans administered, and this one was likely the least severe, with the intent to simply appease the Jews – this of course didn’t work. The most severe beating is the one which involved the famed ‘cat of nine tails’, each “tail” having bits of metal or bone embedded into the ends. The bones and metal chips would land in the flesh, and then rip the flesh off, thus exposing the body’s internal organs and bones after a time. This third degree of beating was likely what Jesus received after being formally and finally condemned by Pilate (we aren’t quite there yet in the narrative, and its hard to see how Pilate would have moved to this degree of beating without a final verdict being given).

19:4-5 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [5] So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

I am reminded of the fakery of this ceremony when I read these words simply because it was typical to adorn a king with certain trappings of the office and then hail him as king before the people. For instance, in 2 Chronicles 23 we read of the crowning of Joash, a very young man at the time:

Then they brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony. And they proclaimed him king, and Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and they said, “Long live the king.” (2 Chronicles 23:11)

When Pilate declares, “behold the man”, he is of course mocking Jesus. But in his words there is a great deal of irony. Jesus is the man. He is the God-man. He is certainly human, and yet the passage is inescapably tinged with His divinity.

All of this occurs despite the fact that Pilate found no guilt in Jesus. I don’t suppose we have a full account of all that was said, but John has included what was necessary to give us a picture of the proceedings.

19:6-7 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” [7] The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Now Pilate once again seeks to release Jesus. The Jews didn’t want Him released, and it is typical that when people are riled up about something they cool down after a while and after seeing their enemy sufficiently humiliated. But for these Jews, Pilate’s humiliation of Jesus wasn’t enough.

Their desires now fully match their father the Devil’s. They want to see Jesus dead, and they begin to cry out for His death with shouts of “crucify him!”

I spoke of this before, and so won’t spend a lot of time on it, but Pilate doesn’t really find anything wrong with Jesus, and he doesn’t feel the need to be involved in killing Him either. But we shouldn’t mistake this for altruism on Pilate’s part. It may be true that his heart was being softened at this moment, but that doesn’t seem likely. What seems likely given the context is that he is simply mocking the Jews.

When Pilate says, “take him yourselves and crucify him” he’s just rubbing in the lack of ability for the Jews to do this because they were under the governance of the Romans. It’s as if Pilate was saying, “go kill him yourself…oh, wait, that’s right you’re under the boot of Roman rule…ya sorry about that!”

Now the response of the Jews shows how laser focused they were in accomplishing their objective. They didn’t blink an eye at the insult of Pilate, for they knew very well that they weren’t allowed to kill anyone. Instead they continue to make the case that Jesus has to die, and therefore the Romans need to be the ones to do it.

Why They Want Him Dead

If you notice here, it’s the chief priests who are demanding the execution of Jesus. Why? Because “he has made himself the Son of God.” Their case is based on theological grounds.

Here’s why I think that its worth taking a minute to pause and reflect on this statement: There have been many liberal scholars, and secular academics, who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, or divine, or anything more than a good teacher, but this assertion simply doesn’t hold up.

This text is “exhibit A” as to why the “good teacher” argument doesn’t hold up: Even His enemies knew what He was claiming. Though they had many other accusations to hurl (i.e. that he intended to destroy the temple), this is the one they come to Pilate with when everything is on the line. Their main accusation is one of blasphemy. Jesus, this man from Nazareth, has claimed to be equal with God.

There are several passages to show this, but one need only look at chapter eight to see an excellent example of the clash between Jesus’ claims and the teaching/leadership of the Pharisees:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:53-59)

So here we have just one example of His clear claim to divinity. And we’ve spoken about this passage in the past, but its important to realize the profundity of these words and how they must have antagonized the Pharisees.

Carson summarizes with great circumspection:

In man contexts that was demonstrably untrue. The anointed king of Israel was sometimes referred to as God’s Son in the Old Testament (Ps. 2:7; 89:26-27), and in some intertestamental sources ‘Son of God’ is parallel to ‘Messiah’ (4Q Florilegium). But Jesus’ opponents rightly recognize that as he uses the title there are overtones not only of messiahship but of sharing the rights and authority of God himself (vs. 1:34; 5:19-30).

19:8-11 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. [9] He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. [10] So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” [11] Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

It’s interesting to read Carson and Ridderbos and others discuss what John must mean by Pilate being “more afraid.” They seem to think that Pilate, like many Romans, was likely a very superstitious man, and that it wasn’t so much that he was convinced or had a strong feeling of Jesus’ deity that this statement confirms.

No, the man Pilate had no clue that Jesus was the God-man, and indeed very God of very God. Rather, he was either concerned that there might be something super-human about him (as in Greco-Roman mythology – so Carson) or he was afraid/nervous about his tenuous position as maintainer of order during the proceedings (so Ridderbos), which were tending toward absurdity and chaos, rather than justice and order.

Jesus then doesn’t answer Pilate – He’s really already answered this question before (see vs. 36) and, as is remarked upon by some, He likely doesn’t see Pilate as a rightful judge in these matters. The silence, of course, is not indefinite. But it partly fulfills what we read in the prophets “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).

Next, Pilate severely aggravated by the silent treatment, flaunts his authority before the One who created him from nothing in the first place.

What is interesting about Jesus’ response is that in our English translations, the word “therefore” seems to act as a connector word to the previous sentence about the nature of how Pilate derived his authority. However, that is deceiving. Jesus is not connecting the authority of Pilate with his lack of culpability/responsibility for the sin of this ridiculous trial. Rather He is making two separate statements.

The first statement leaves us in great awe of the majestic sovereignty of the Lord, and reminds us of the compatibilist viewpoint of the New Testament writers (cf. Carson). God is behind every thing going on in this situation. God is the ultimate source of all authority, and therefore Pilate could not be operating – or living and breathing for that matter – without the express consent and decree of God. Yet this does not rob men of their responsibility to obey God. He is mysteriously ordaining every act of men, yet we are still responsible for our actions.

Secondly, playing off the first statement, Pilate is still responsible for his sinfully unjust trial. Yet the degree of this sinfulness is eclipsed by those men (or man – it is in the singular in the Gk) who delivered Jesus over to him.

I can’t personally decide with certainty who it is that is at issue here – whether it is Caiaphas (as Morris and Carson have deducted), or whether it is the Jewish leaders as a whole (as Ridderbos says – he says that the Evangelist is speaking in a redemptive-historical sense, and thereby the singular use of the pronoun “he” is figurative in a sense). If I were pressed, I would say that it represents Caiaphas directly, and the Jewish leaders and the people as a whole indirectly. Caiaphas was the leader of the Council, and the head of the governing body of the Jews. He represented the nation in a federal sense, one might say (just as Jesus represented a nation so to speak, on the cross – see also John 11:49-52)

The key to this passage is this: God is in control of the large and small aspects of history. He ordains all that comes to pass. Not one evil deed is done without His oversight and permission. Yet this does not excuse wickedness, nor does it deny the culpability of man. Rather it shows God’s mercy and the depth of His mysterious ways that He allows evil to work in its fashion for good. These things will not long be the case, as when He comes back in glory the Lord Jesus will put all evil to death, and will usher in an eternity of joy, peace, and abundant life – that which was inaugurated will be consummated.

19:12-16a From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” [13] So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. [14] Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” [15] They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” [16a] So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Now Pilate has asked once again if the Jews will allow Jesus to be released. Pilate is troubled by this Jesus, and he is annoyed at the petulance of the Jews. Yet he is walking a fine line here, and he’s a smart politician. He won’t allow the Jews to get their way on a whim, as if they rule the province, yet he won’t allow the situation to devolve into anarchy which would cause an even bigger headache for him.

Ridderbos rightly says, “Though he (Pilate) knew from long experience with the Jews the hypocrisy of this sudden loyalty to the emperor, he understood from this renewed mention of the emperor that all further delay was futile and could even get him into trouble.”

Therefore it is at this moment that the Jews play a final card – and an effective one at that. In a statement simply drenched in irony and hypocrisy, they claim that if Pilate releases Jesus he will show himself to be a disloyal subject of the Caesar! In other words, they’re claiming that they are more loyal to Caesar than Pilate is! The Jews – specifically “the chief priests” – solidify their (fraudulent) claim to loyalty by shouting “we have no king by Caesar!”

Indeed they had surrendered all kingship to secular authorities, and by this statement revealed for all to see that they were under the kingship of Satan and his ruling authorities rather than the God they claimed to serve.

What immediately came to mind was the rejection of Samuel in the OT. The people claimed to want a king like all the other nations. But what was God’s interpretation of those events? Here is what He said to Samuel:

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. [7] And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:6-7)

All of this serves to remind us of all that Jesus had to suffer before being crucified. Wrongly accused, Jesus has to go through the injustice of a trial which is nothing but a sham. Then He observes as the people He created in His own image deny His kingship and swear a false loyalty to a pagan worshiping man thousands of miles away, all in an effort to crucify the One sent to save them from their sins.

The terrible irony of of this back and forth between Pilate and the Jews is finally put to rest as Pilate acquiesces to their Satanically inspired desires.

 

Notes on John 18:33-40 – God on Trial Part 2

God on Trial Part 2

18:33-36 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” [34] Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” [35] Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” [36] Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

The Setting

Hendricksen is right that the Evangelist assumes that the reader has had some account already of the goings on here in more detail and is just getting to the point he wants to make – John has an agenda.

In fact, each gospel writer has an agenda. Each one wants to show the reader something about Jesus. Matthew, for instance, wanted to show that Jesus was the Messiah – the one who the Jews had long awaited, the son of David. Luke, writing to gentiles, wanted to show that this Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. And John’s goal is spelled out in his thesis statement just a few chapters from now:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

Later in his first Epistle John would write:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

These are good things to keep in mind as we’re reading this account. John’s goal is to show us the character of this man, Jesus, and what He came to do.

The Question

Pilate is skeptical of the Jews’ accusations against Jesus. So in order ascertain for himself what the situation is surrounding this man, he takes Jesus into Roman custody and begins to question Him.

The first question that John records for us pertains to His kingship. Hendricksen rightly (I think) notes that the emphasis must be placed on the pronoun “you”, if we’re to understand the thinking of Pilate. To put it into the negative, he’s saying, “You aren’t the king of the Jews are you?”

Surely this meek Jewish teacher isn’t their king! In Pilate’s mind this is a joke.

Jesus begins to answer the question with one of His own – because it’s not as if He can answer this with a simple “yes” or “no.” If He answered “yes” then Pilate would suppose Jesus to mean a political type of king – for that’s what he had in mind when he asked the question. But if Jesus answered “no”, then He would be overstating the case. Answering “no” would almost be to say “in no way shape or form am I king – they have it all wrong.”

So in order to answer the question correctly, He must first qualify the question. That qualification earns a scoff in return.

Pilate’s reply confirms our interpretation of the snarkiness we detect in the first question. He says, “am I a Jew?” In other words, “Do I have anything to do with any of this nonsense? I don’t think like a Jew, I don’t look like a Jew, and my king is much more majestic than what the rabble brought before me today!”

Now there are some really interesting ironies here in these contrasts, and Carson exposes one of them having to do with Pilate’s question “Am I a Jew?”

It is just possible that under Pilate’s question ‘Am I a Jew?’ the Evangelist finds lurking deeper ironies. Pilate despises and distrusts the Jews, yet in the course of the narrative he is eventually forced to adopt their position. Insofar as the Jews here represent the ‘world’, Pilate joins them. And in any case, the reader knows that in a profound sense Pilate’s question really means (though certainly not intended this way by Pilate), ‘Are you my king?’ (Carson, pg. 593, cites Duke).

Pilate then demands of Jesus “what have you done?” In other words, “what is it that you’ve done to rile these detestable Jews to this point? How have you annoyed them so as to have them demanding your execution???”

The Reply

Now we are at verse 36, and the reply of Jesus to the questions Pilate has been asking. He’s had Pilate clarify the question, and Pilate is clearly annoyed, and has replied with derision at the Jews and their idea of kingship. Surely it can’t be this man!

There are so many passages in Scripture where we can look to for evidence of the kingship of Jesus. We look at passages that show His authority, or descriptions of His sovereignty and control over lives and nature and so forth. But perhaps this is one of the passages we overlook.

**I think that in Jesus’ reply there are two things we learn: 1. The nature of the kingdom of Jesus and 2. The purpose for His coming to Earth.

First, the Kingship of Jesus is described here in terms of a “kingdom” – and not just a normal kingdom, but an other-worldly kingdom. His kingdom is not like the kingdoms we’re used to seeing or reading about in books. There are no knights in shining armor. There are no castle walls or protective moats. Missing are the court jesters, friars, monks, dukes, and large gathering of couriers (you can tell I think of “kingdom” in terms of the middle ages!).

Furthermore, the kingdom of Jesus is not situated geographically in a static physical location. And although all the world and its heavens are the footstool of God, for He owns all things and made all things, yet His kingdom is more than simply the physical created order that is visible to us today, rather it includes ALL of the created order including the spiritual realm.

The nature of the kingdom of God has been a topic much debated among theologians, but I would like to read a few comments by pastors and theologians to help us have a better understanding of how the church has understood Jesus’ words here throughout the last 2000 years

Perhaps George Ladd had the best definition. He described God’s kingdom in this way:

The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among human beings, and…this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver people from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign.

Commenting on Ladd’s definition, Tom Schreiner says, “We can say, then, that the kingdom was inaugurated in the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus, but the kingdom will not be consummated until he returns.”

J.C. Ryle’s explanation on the nature of the kingdom Jesus is describing is great. He says, “It is a kingdom which is neither begun, nor propagated, nor defended by the power of this world, by the world’s arms or the world’s money. It is a kingdom which took its origin from heaven, and not from earth, – a spiritual kingdom, – a kingdom over hearts and wills and consciences, – a kingdom which needs no armies or revenues, – a kingdom which in no way interferes with the kingdoms of this world.”

I love how Ryle remarks that the kingdom of Jesus is timeless. It didn’t have a beginning and it won’t have an end. His kingdom is forever.

Martin Luther expressed this idea well in the final verse of his famous hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’:

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Of course what Luther caught a hold of in this hymn is that the consequence of being united to Christ is that no matter what happens to this body, our place is in heaven with Jesus whose “kingdom is forever.”

This reality is what governs Jesus’ responses. He abides in the truth – the reality that in this moment is hidden from Pilate and the bloodthirsty Jewish leaders.

And though His kingdom is timeless, as Ryle points out, we find in Jesus’ words a hint of the already-not yet character of the kingdom. He was already a king. He had reigned forever with the Father and the Spirit over all that they created. By definition God is king over all because He created all things and therefore has authority over all things.

Yet, the Son, having set aside the privileges and rights ascribed to Him ontologically as God temporarily, still did not deny here before Pilate that He indeed was and is a king – THE King. And His kingdom will one day be consummated in a great and glorious triumph! Oh what a day that will be!

Carson’s comments reinforce what Ladd and Schreiner have to say (and help temper Ryle a bit):

It is important to see ‘that Jesus’ statement should not be misconstrued as meaning that h is kingdom is not active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world’ (Beasley-Murray, pg. 331). John certainly expects the power of the inbreaking kingdom to affect this world; elsewhere he insists that the world in conquered by those who believe in Jesus (1 John 5:4). But theirs is the sort of struggle, and victory, that cannot effectively be opposed by armed might.

And although Pilate does not recognize in sincerity the kingship of Jesus, he certainly would have had He seen Him in His glory just 33 years before, and, of course, he now knows the error of His ways being (we assume?) in eternal torment in Hell.

Therefore, as I mentioned before, these men are blind to the truth, and Paul was right in what he spoke to the Corinthians about the veiled nature of Christ’s glory during His time on earth:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

18:37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

The Purpose for His Coming

So first we looked at the nature of the kingdom of God, and now we’re going to look at the purpose of His coming.

When Jesus replies to Pilate that He is a king and rules over an other-worldly kingdom, Pilate responds “So you are a king?” and we can almost assume that the sarcasm is kicking in at this point, as Pilate completely misses what Jesus is saying…though I think he will sober up here soon.

Jesus’ reply is not to simply confirm what He’s already said, but to give Pilate some insight into why He came to earth. Namely, He came to bear witness to the truth. This truth is the truth of God’s plan, and His gospel for mankind. Jesus’ mission is summed up in Luke’s gospel this way:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)

Now, Jesus ends His explanation by stating that, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” If you are of the truth, if you have “ears to hear”, then you will listen and understand what Jesus is saying.

Remember that John plays up the contrasts in his book, and one of the biggest contrasts is between light and darkness. Pilate is in the darkness. He can’t understand what Jesus is saying to him. It’s all nonsense to his ears – and that’s why that passage from 2 Cor. 4 that I quoted earlier is so important.

It seems hard to fathom that if you were to stand in the presence of the Lord of Glory that you’d be able to miss that He is God incarnate. Yet many did. They’re eyes were darkened, their hearts were hardened, and they were not looking for the kingdom of God to come in such a remarkable way.

Furthermore, Jesus recognized this and explained this reality throughout the gospels, and we have read a lot of it in John’s gospel. For instance, compare these other instances to what we’ve read just now:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5 ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, [38] and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. (John 5:37-38 ESV)

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. [44] No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. [45] It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:43-45 ESV)

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. [44] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [45] But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45 ESV)

We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:29-33 ESV)

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (John 10:14-17 ESV)

The point all of these citations is to show that Jesus has come on a mission to find His sheep, to seek and save the lost sheep, and that before anyone is saved they are in darkness and unable to find their way to the safety of God’s arms. It is Jesus Himself who searches us out, who calls us to Himself, and whose truth must abide in us if we’re to be saved. It is He who sovereignly changes the hearts and minds of men, softening us to His call and His message, and giving us the truth of His gospel which is able to save our souls.

This is the truth He came to hear witness to, this is the truth He proclaims now before Pilate.

18:38-40 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. [39] But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” [40] They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Oh the Irony!

Finally, as we wrap up chapter 18 we read of Pilate’s reply to Jesus’ mission statement that He came to hear witness to the truth. Jesus extolls all the great things that we Christians hold dear and Pilate responds with scoffs. He says, “what is truth?”

Of course the irony of this statement/question is that Pilate scoffs at the notion that there is an absolute truth standard to the man who embodies the truth itself and whose character is the basis for the very standard Pilate doesn’t believe exists.

Ryle is perhaps right that this state of mind reflects that which many rich and powerful men throughout every age have held. Pilate has heard of all the many philosophical systems and ideas in his own time and he’s given up even trying to figure out who and what is right. And I think that perhaps in Pilate’s mind, the very fact that he’s having to try a man for a crime that is so obviously absurd is more evidence in his mind that if there is an absolute standard, it doesn’t seem discernable to him or these ridiculous Jews.

The Response of the Jews

Pilate goes back to the Jews now and, not convinced that there’s anything wrong with this man Jesus – for how can he be a king? – says that he’s willing to release Him and chalk it up to their yearly custom of letting a prisoner go.

It’s fitting of the sarcastic narrative I’ve been painting here of Pilate that he continues to call Jesus ‘The King of the Jews’ – in his mind this is meant to denigrate the Jews that they would have such a lowly king.

Now the response of the Jews seals their fates and fulfills the prophecies that they would reject the Messiah, and stumble over the Great Cornerstone of the Church. Their salvation is at hand, and their reply is an enthusiastic call for the release of the robber Barabbas.

Notes on John 18:28-32 – God on Trial Part 1

Here are my notes on John 18:28-32, it is the first in several installments of the trial of Jesus Christ.

God on Trial Part 1

18:28-31 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. [29] So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” [30] They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” [31] Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 

Some Background

It is still “early morning” and Jesus has now moved from a Jewish trial to a Roman one.  John obviously stresses the “early” nature of these events.  Hendricksen notes that, “Rising at (or very soon after) dawn, and being ready for business at such an early hour, was not unusual in the ancient world, not even on the part of important officials, such as Pilate.”

The Jews wished to have Jesus killed, and while their council could decree the death penalty, they couldn’t execute such a decree – only the Romans could do that. Thus, in order to finally exterminate the existential threat Jesus posed to their political and social standing, this was the next necessary step.

Now in John’s gospel we miss some of the context for what happened at the Jewish council, so I want to just give that here so its fresh in our minds what Jesus just came from, and what the religious leaders just finished doing:

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole councilwere seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”[i] 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God,tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:57-66)

Self-Righteousness on the Outside, Murder on the Inside

In verse 28 we read something remarkable.  John says that the Jews didn’t want to enter the governor’s headquarters in order not to be defiled.  Being around gentiles made one impure – this is why when Jews in the diaspora came in for the Passover they cleansed themselves from having lived among gentile nations/people.  It is purely figurative, of course, but it was part of the ceremonial idea that these were God’s chosen people and that they weren’t to come to worship in an unclean way.

In addition to this, as Calvin notes, it wasn’t against the law to be with Gentiles, it was their traditions that added this to the law!

What is most remarkable, however, is not that they were working to keep themselves clean, but that in one sentence John has shown us why the religious leaders of that day got it so wrong.  They were so concerned about the ritual of not consorting with Gentiles, all the while their hearts were as black as soot.  Jesus decried this hypocrisy earlier in His ministry:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. [38] The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. [39] And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:37-41)

So these Pharisees march right up to the point of physical ceremonial defilement, just stopping short of the doorway so as not to mess up their feast days – wouldn’t want to do that – all while on a murderous rampage that has completely consumed them. They are totally bent on killing Jesus.

I think Matthew really captures their mindset well:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. (Matthew 26:3-4)

As Calvin says, “…they carry more pollution within their hearts, than they can contract by entering any place however profane…and…they carry to excess their care about smaller matters, and neglect what is of the highest importance.”  “In short”, Calvin says, “they observe the shadow of the Passover with a false and pretended reverence, and yet not only do they violate the true Passover by sacrilegious hands, but endeavor, as far as lies in their power, to burry it in eternal oblivion.”

Augustine is simply aghast at this scene and details his thoughts in somewhat hilarious (to the modern reader) Shakespearean dialect, “O impious blindness! They would be defiled, forsooth, by a dwelling which was another’s, and not be defiled by a crime which was their own. They feared to be defiled by the praetorium of an alien judge, and feared not to be defiled by the blood of an innocent brother.”

Now, from a textual/background/timeline perspective, I want to just note that some have had difficulty with the phrase that John gives here that the Pharisees wanted to “eat the Passover” still.  Well, didn’t Jesus just eat the Passover meal with His disciples? I believe that He did indeed.  But Carson, who weighs all the opinions and scholarship from Bruce, Morris and others points out that what is likely meant is the continuation of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Once you weigh all the points together (including the different potential defilements and their time penalty) one has to come to the conclusion that “the Passover” here is the continuation of the Passover celebration, and not the Pascal Meal itself. Therefore, “The Jews wanted to continue to participate in the entire feast; they wanted to eat the Passover” (Carson).

From Whence We Came…

The mindset of the Pharisees is one set on plots and death. And really, one of the things that we need to understand is that apart from God and His work in our hearts, we’d be right there with these guys. We’d think as they did, and we would despise the Lord of Glory.  It is an unnerving truth to face.  Can you imagine thinking evil thoughts about Jesus like “who do you think you are you miserable peasant from Nazareth!”

The revolting nature of this truth is a reminder that we are naturally at enmity with God – do you know what that means? It means that we hate God and have murderous intent toward Him.  It means that we are enemies of God – mortal enemies of God – before being saved.  Jesus didn’t die to save His friends.  Jesus died to save His enemies!

I’m saying this and reminding us of this here because it helps us to remember the lengths to which He went to save us, and the kind of people we were before we met Him. These truths – and seeing the Pharisees in all their ugliness – reminds us of our own ugliness, and helps us treasure the gospel all the more.

Listen to what Paul says on this:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:12-16)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV)

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10-11 ESV)

In all these verses we see two realities: 1. Our state of sinfulness and alienation of/from God prior to His saving us, and 2. That our salvation is grounded in the work Christ did on the cross at Calvary.

It is the gospel that while were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  That is what we see unfolding here with these evil religious leaders. They bathe in the filth of their heart’s delight.  So eager to get to get rid of this man, yet so loathe to taint themselves with uncleanliness that comes with consorting with gentiles.

Baselessness

I mentioned before, in the last section of teaching, that the accusations the Jews had against Jesus were just rubbish, and the trials by which they accused Jesus of blasphemy were all trumped up and really illegal by their own custom.  Now, they have to somehow convince Pilate, the Roman in charge of Jerusalem, that there was something worthy of dealing with him from a secular standpoint.

Pilate’s initial question is answered by the Jews by essentially a non-answer.  They say, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”  In other words, “hey trust us on this one. He’s not a good dude, just deal with him.”  Well obviously that’s not good enough for Pilate, so he tells them to get lost and deal with their issues themselves.  But these Jews are determined.  Their hearts are full of hate.  They’ve been searching for this opportunity for months (at least), and they’ve been up all night to boot.  They aren’t backing down.

Pilate’s answer to them is filled with irony says Calvin, “Take you him. He says this ironically; for he would not have allowed them to pronounce on a man a sentence of capital punishment” – mostly because these people were obviously not capable of executing any kind of justice! A society governed by these men would have been nothing but corruption and anarchy, and Pilate must have been thinking as much at the time.

Carson brilliantly points out that the Jews had already secured a detachment of troops to capture Jesus, so they were likely thinking Pilate would simply ratify whatever the Sanhedrin Council concluded, yet here he was seemingly opening up a whole new trial and not simply rubber-stamping their decision to kill this man.  This is likely what got them worked up so quickly – perhaps they were expecting an easier go of it.

18:32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

“Did He Predict His Destiny?”

This past week or so we held a Vacation Bible School at the church, and one of the songs the kids sung asked the question “Did He (Jesus) predict His destiny?”  Those kids answered the question in the affirmative because, as they saw in the Scriptures, Jesus was able to know exactly what was going to happen to Him.  He predicted that all these things would come to pass.

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, [18] “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death [19] and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:17-19) see also Luke 18:31-34

Luke Adds: “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (18:34)

Only the Son of God could have made this kind of prediction.  Only someone who knew the future could have said “here’s what going to happen, here’s how it’s going to happen, and here’s who is going to do it.”

This is just one more proof that John lays before us in order to establish in our minds the truth that this man Jesus was indeed the Son of God.  When we read things like this, it’s right to step back and be amazed.  These are the kinds of things that no normal man could have known.

Ryle rightly points out that this moment is the fulfilling of the entire Scriptures dating back to Jacob’s own predictions.  In an amazing bit of insight he says the following:

Let us mark here what a striking confession the Jews here made, whether they were aware of it or not. They actually admitted that they were no longer rulers and governors of their own nation and that they were under the dominion of a foreign power. They were no longer independent, but subject of Rome…By their own mouth and their own act they publicly declared that Jacob’s prophecy was fulfilled, “that the scepter had departed from Judah,” that they had no longer a lawgiver of their own stock, and that consequently the time of Shiloh, the promised Messiah, must have come.  How unconscious wicked men are that they fulfill prophecy!

Calvin agrees and adds that, “And, indeed, if we wish to read with advantage the history of Christ’s death, the chief point is, to consider the eternal purpose of God.  The Son of God is placed before the tribunal of a mortal man. If we suppose that this is done by the caprice of men, and do not raise our eyes to God, our faith must necessarily be confounded and put to shame.”

And yet in all of this the gospel was played out.  For as Calvin continues, “But when we perceive that, by the condemnation of Christ, our condemnation before God is blotted out, because it pleased the Heavenly Father to take this method of reconciling mankind to himself, raised on high by this single consideration, we boldly, and without shame, glory even in Christ’s ignominy. Let us therefore learn, in each part of this narrative, to turn our eyes to God as the Author of our redemption.”  Amen!!!

Therefore there’s a second dimension to His predictions, and that is that not only did He know of these events, He allowed them to occur and steadfastly and patiently endured the corruption of justice by the Jews, and the human authority of the Romans, all in order to fulfill His great plan for our salvation.