Jesus and Pilate



John 18:12-40


This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for March 28, 2021. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

This is Holy Week, so I want to skip ahead a few chapters in our study of the discourses of Jesus in John to the day of His crucifixion. Our Scripture reading this morning will come from verses in John 18:12-40. We will be reading the paragraphs on Jesus’ trials, and omitting the paragraphs on Peter’s denials. Read John 18:12-14, then 18:19-24, then 18:28-40.


Imagine that you are up late some night, walking about downtown Indy, when a police officer grabs you, forces you in a squad car, and hauls you off to the Marion County jail. Soon you are standing before the “night judge” and the policeman says, “We caught this person walking about the street and want you to sentence him/her to a jail term.” The judge asks, “What are the charges. What crime has been done?” The policeman replies, “If this person weren’t a criminal, we would not have arrested him!!” So the judge then turns to you and asks, “OK, you were arrested. Tell me, what did you do wrong? Why did they arrest you? Speak up!! What shall I charge you with?!”

The story seems almost comical. In a civil society, we do not merely arrest a person, “just because.” To arrest a person, they need to have committed or been accused of committing a crime. Only then are they arrested, and brought to trial, where “charges” are made against the person.

In the case of Jesus’ arrest, no charges were placed before Pilate by the Jews, merely a request, or should I say demand, to “get rid of this guy by execution.” Lets look at the story. Late in the evening, after the Passover dinner, Jesus and His disciples have gone to Gethsemane, a garden beyond the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, to pray. He prayed a couple hours. Then Judas and the temple guards arrived and haul Him off to the High Priest’s jail and court. Here the Gospel narratives share that the Jews spent all night trying to come up with some charge they could lay on Jesus. But they could not find even one.


So early in the morning, at or just after sunrise, they brought Jesus to the palace of the Roman Governor. Pilate had rule over the Provence of Judea, as a “Procurator” or military governor. Herod Antipas was a civilian governor of Galilee and Perea (modern day Jordan). Pilate had a Roman Army at his disposal and had greater latitude to use force to secure conformity to Roman Law, than did Herod, who only had a local militia to enforce his rule.


As mentioned above, the High Priests also had a contingency of armed guards to guard the Temple area, and keep “the religious peace” in Jerusalem and even beyond. Under Rome, the Jews could have their own court to enforce their own local customs and laws. But they could not exercise capital punishment. Only a governor appointed or approved by Rome had that authority.

The Sanhedrin Council, the Jewish leadership headed by the High Priest, had determined that Jesus was enough of a menace to their society, that He must be killed. So they arrested Him and tried to find an “occasion” against Him for which they could “charge” Him in Pilate’s court. Finding none they took Him before Governor Pilate anyway.

This is the background to the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, which is Jesus’ discourse for our meditation today. There is an outstanding paradox here, as the Jewish leaders approach the palace. They are concerned about the fact that this is early morning of “Passover.” They want to be “purified” or “sanctified” enough to eat the sacred Passover meal that evening. So they refuse to enter a Gentile house (in this case Pilates palace), for fear of defiling themselves and disqualifying themselves from the sacred dinner. Of interest here is, this “law of defilement” is not from the Scriptures, it is another of the numerous additional traditions of the Jewish leadership. Yet while trying to be sanctimoniously pure, they are, at the same time, plotting and executing a murderous plan against an innocent man. Irony at its best, or in this case worst!!!

Notice the atmosphere of the story. I do not think a couple of leaders politely approached the door and respectfully asked Pilate to come out and talk. They come as a mob of irate “citizens,” making a stir and demanding the Governor come out and meet their demands.

After a short dialogue, Pilate brings Jesus into his court and asks Him what the charges are against Him. Jesus first remains silent, a right in the Roman court. Pilate finally asks, “Are you a the King of the Jews?” Now Jesus responds, and I paraphrase, “Did you come to this conclusion on your own, or did others say this about me?” Pilate’s reply, probably in anger, was, “Am I a Jew? Your leaders have brought you to me! What have you done?” Note the frustration in the question. Is Jesus an “insurrectionist?” If so, why is there no “evidence” of it?


Jesus’ response is most interesting. “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my servants would fight to keep me from being arrested. But my kingdom is from another world.” (quoting English Standard Version). Jesus was not here on earth right “now” (at this point in time) to take over the world, rather to sacrifice Himself for the entire world.


Jesus goes on to explain what He has said so many times before. “I am a King, that is the reason I came into the world. And I am here to ‘testify of the truth’ ” (18:37). Jesus knew, for fact and from experience, what no other man in history before or ever in the future would know. He knows God, who He is, where He lives, what is beyond the “veil” of this material world. He was here to tell us about it, and how to get there.


Pilate’s response is a sarcastic, “What is truth?” And there the dialogue ends. Pilate, like so many people of our world today, encountered Jesus and the “truth,” not by seeking Him out, but by having Christ delivered to his doorstep, so to speak, and forced to deal with Him. Pilate’s answer was, “ ’truth’ is only a matter of opinion.” The Jewish leaders’ “truth” was that Jesus was a threat to their position and their material wellbeing. They wanted Him killed, because of who He claimed to be. Pilate’s “truth” was Christ was an inconvenience. He just wanted peace and quiet, so if one innocent man must die to keep that peace, then, so be it. As for “truth,” “I have mine, the Jewish leaders have theirs, the followers of Jesus have theirs, you have yours, and so on.” Truth is ubiquitous. That means, there is lots of it, it is not uniform, and it is cheap.


And there it is. Pilate wrote off Jesus. In fairness to him, he did see Jesus as legally innocent. He did try and work to get Him released. But by high noon, Jesus was executed at the insistence of the Jewish leaders and on a writ by Pilate, himself, who refused the see and recognize “the Truth.” How about you? Do you know the Truth who can give you eternal life?


CH Jim Odell