John 18:28-38; Matthew
27:2, 11-14; Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-5
In the early morning
hours before dawn the Jewish Sanhedrin condemned
Jesus Christ on a charge of blasphemy. The penalty
under Jewish law was death. However, the high priest
had no authority to execute a death sentence. These
Jewish trials were held at night and were illegal
because it was illegal to pronounce a death sentence
at night. Moreover, the death sentence could not be
pronounced on the same day of the trial. There had
to be at least one day to intervene. Both of these
provisions were violated.
Therefore, the Sanhedrin
quickly turned Jesus over to the Roman governor
Pontius Pilate to execute Him.
The crucifixion of Jesus
had to take place and everything cleaned up before
six p.m. at the beginning of the Passover
celebration. Nobody could be left on the cross that
Appearance before Pilate
Pontius Pilate was the
Roman Procurator from 26 to 36 A.D. His residence
was in Cesarea, but during the religious feasts of
Israel he travelled to Jerusalem because there was
always the fear of civil unrest during these highly
patriotic events. He was actually born in Seville,
Spain. He abandoned his first wife to marry Claudia,
the daughter of Julia, the daughter of the Emperor
Augustas. His contempt for the Jewish religion was
detestable. George Adam Smith says, "He was a
typical Roman, stern and practical, with all the
Roman contempt for superstition, which at that
period was synonymous with religion of every
variety, and all the Roman hatred of the Jews . . .
. He hated his subjects, but also feared them. He
was at their mercy, and they knew it." Pilate won
the favor of the Emperor as long as he could
increase the tax revenue and maintain peace in the
conquered land. However, he got in trouble with the
Emperor with both accounts. The first time he
entered Jerusalem he set up the Roman standards
bearing the Emperor's image on the citadel
completely disregarding the religious conviction of
the Jews concerning the prohibition of all graven
images. A year before Jesus' crucifixion Emperor
Tiberius had rebuked Pilate concerning these shields
he had set up in Herod's palace.
The civil trial of Jesus
before the Roman governor Pilate could not take
place before sunrise (6 a.m.). The Sanhedrin had
conducted their trials in the early morning before
the sunrise. Both of their trials were technically
illegal. They did not have the authority or power to
crucify Jesus. The sole purpose of the Sanhedrin was
to get approval from the Roman government to execute
Jesus. Only the Roman governor had absolute legal
authority in matters involving capital punishment.
That power lay in the hands of Pilate who alone
could prescribe the death penalty. He also had the
power to release Jesus, but he did not. Each of the
four Gospels tells us the Sanhedrin delivered up
Jesus to Pilate. Probably the whole Sanhedrin was
involved with the exception of Nicodemus and Joseph
The Jewish religious
leaders wanted a rapid decision from Pilate because
they feared an uprising among the Jewish people
(Matt. 26:5). Moreover, they wanted to keep
themselves ritually clean, in order to be able to
eat the Passover meal that night. They were so
obsessed that they might become religiously defiled
by entering the Roman governor's palace and be
forbidden to partake of the Passover that night that
they did not even consider that they were murdering
an innocent man at the same time. To them ceremonial
pollution was far more serious than murder. The
Roman Praetorium was the governor's official
residence with a large outside court where the
Jewish crowd could assemble without fear of
ceremonial impurity. Here the Roman governor heard
and decided cases brought before him. It comprised
all the buildings that included the governor's
quarters. If the Jews entered the Roman Praetorium
on the morning of the first day of the Passover
celebration they would have been rendered impure and
forbidden to offer the Pascal Lamb. "Then they led
Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was
early; and they themselves did not enter into the
Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but
might eat the Passover" (John 18:28, NASB95). (All
Scripture references are taken from New American
Standard Bible, 1995 Update unless otherwise noted).
They brought Jesus before
Pilate and began to accuse Him, "We found this man
misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to
Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a
King" (Luke 23:2). These religious leaders did not
want an independent formal investigation into the
facts regarding Jesus; they wanted the governor's
outright approval of their death sentence.
Legally we cannot kill Him; you do it for us.
Pilate went out to the
Jewish leaders and said, "'What accusation do you
bring against this Man?' They answered and said to
him, 'If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not
have delivered Him to you.' So Pilate said to them,
'Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to
your law.' The Jews said to him, 'We are not
permitted to put anyone to death,' to fulfill the
word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what
kind of death He was about to die" (John 18:29-32).
Jesus had been repeatedly
telling His followers how and where He would die.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John
3:14). "'And I, if I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men to Myself.' But He was saying this
to indicate the kind of death by which He was to
die" (John 12:32-33). "Behold, we are going up to
Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to
the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn
Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles
to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the
third day He will be raised up" (Matthew 20:18-19).
The Jews could not execute Jesus, but the Scriptures
had predicted His crucifixion. The Romans had to
The religious leaders
were not being honest with Pilate. The Sanhedrin
charged Jesus with blasphemy, but they knew if they
told Pilate the truth about why they wanted Jesus
executed he would have refused to fulfill their
demands. Pilate as a Roman governor would have
nothing to do with their religious superstitions.
Jewish blasphemy was not sufficient grounds in the
eyes of Roman law to crucify Jesus. Pilate simply
told them you have your laws go out and do it
yourself. Their response was but according to the
Roman law we do not have the authority to execute
anyone. "We are not permitted to put anyone to
death." That is a Roman privilege.
The Roman law demanded
public proceedings and explicit accusations. Pilate
wanted to know the formal charge against Jesus.
However, the Jewish leaders wanted to be the judges,
and leave Pilate to do the execution. Pilate
insisted on trying the case himself especially when
he heard them say Jesus was an "evildoer" (kakos).
This man is a bad, worthless fellow. They chose a
loaded term emphasizing habitual evil worker. They
imply that He was actively engaged in doing evil.
They leave the inference up to Pilate who would hear
the word "evildoer" and draw the conclusion that
Jesus had committed some crime against the Roman
However, Pilate did not
buy into their manipulation. Pilate said to them,
"Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to
your law" (John 18:31). He refuses to associate
"evildoer" with an offense against the Roman law. So
he challenges the Sanhedrin, and insists on a
specific charge against Jesus.
King of the Jews
The Jewish leaders
proceeded to accuse Jesus of treason. They said He
was plotting sedition by "misleading our nation and
forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar" (Luke 23:2). How
many of them had paid their taxes? It was an
outright lie when they said He forbade paying
tribute to the Emperor. Jesus in fact said, "Render
to Caesar the things which are Caesar's." In
desperation they said Jesus claimed to be the
Messiah, a King. Again, Jesus had steadfastly
refused to accept the acclamation to become a
political messiah. At the same time these religious
leaders deeply desire a political messiah who would
overthrow the Roman dictatorship.
In response to their
accusation of sedition against Rome Pilate goes back
into his palace where Jesus is waiting (John 18:33).
When Pilate examined Jesus he felt free to speak the
truth with Pilate. Probably with a scornful sneer
Pilate asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" (Mark
15:2; Matt. 27:11; Luke 23:3) In each of the four
Gospels this is Pilate's first question to Jesus and
the pronoun "You" is emphatic. In Pilate's view this
was a ridiculous charge. Each of the synoptic
Gospels tells us Jesus replied, "It is as you say."
We could paraphrase it, "You said it!" or "Yes,
indeed." "Yes, I am a king." John 18:34 tells us,
"Jesus answered, 'Are you saying this on your own
initiative, or did others tell you about Me?'" (John
Pilate took offense to
Jesus' answer. With Roman scorn Pilate answered, "'I
am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief
priests delivered You to me; what have You done?'
Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If
My kingdom were of this world, then My servants
would be fighting so that I would not be handed over
to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this
realm.' Therefore Pilate said to Him, 'So You are a
king?' Jesus answered, 'You say correctly that I am
a king. For this I have been born, and for this I
have come into the world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.' Pilate
said to Him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said
this, he went out again to the Jews and said to
them, 'I find no guilt in Him'" (John 18:35-38).
A. T. Robertson reminds
us Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. It is not
of this world. Jesus did claim to be a spiritual
king of Israel as Nathanael said (John 1:49) and as
the ecstatic crowd hailed him on the Triumphal Entry
(John 12:13). However, the Sanhedrin wish Pilate to
understand this in a political sense as a rival of
Caesar. Remember, some of the Jews had wanted Jesus
to be a political messiah (John 6:15). If His
kingdom were of this world He would have recruited a
worldly army. He is not a political messiah. His
Kingdom is based on spiritual truth. He reigns in
the heart of the individual. Jesus said, "The
kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). Where
the King is, there is the Kingdom. His rule is
acknowledged in the heart. It is the sovereignty of
God through the Spirit of God in our lives. William
Hendriksen said, "Jesus is the real King of the real
Newman and Nida in A
Translator's Handbook write: "Jesus is not
denying that His kingdom exercises authority in this
world; rather, He is affirming that the origin and
nature of His kingly authority are not the same as
those of the kings of this world." The Son of God
came out of heaven, and His kingship is of an
entirely different kind.
Silent as a Lamb at
The religious leaders
"accused Him of many things" (Mark. 15:3). "And
while He was being accused by the chief priests and
elders, He did not answer. Then Pilate said to Him,
'Do You not hear how many things they testify
against You?' And He did not answer him with regard
to even a single charge, so the governor was quite
amazed" (Matthew 27:12-14). It was a dignified
silence that fulfilled prophecy.
Pilate could have
released Jesus at that point in the trial, but he
didn't. Pilate did not see Jesus and His Kingdom as
a threat to Rome, so he dismissed any charge of
The religious leaders
continued to press their issue against Jesus. "But
they kept on insisting, saying, 'He stirs up the
people, teaching all over Judea, starting from
Galilee even as far as this place'" (Luke 23:5).
Normally Pilate was in
Caesarea and Herod Antipas would be in Galilee. They
were now in Jerusalem for the Passover. When Pilate
heard the word "Galilee" he thought he could turn
Jesus over to Herod and make peace with him. Since
Jesus was from Galilee he would be under the
jurisdiction of Herod. He had beheaded John the
Baptist in order to please Herodias. How would he
Jesus before Herod
Antipas (Luke 23:6-12)
It is still early Friday
morning around 6 a.m. in Jerusalem (John 19:14).
"When Pilate heard it, he
asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he
learned that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he
sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem
at that time. Now Herod was very glad when he saw
Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time,
because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping
to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned
Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. And
the chief priests and the scribes were standing
there, accusing Him vehemently. And Herod with his
soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and
mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent
Him back to Pilate. Now Herod and Pilate became
friends with one another that very day; for before
they had been enemies with each other" (Luke
Herod had often heard
about the miracles of Jesus and was hoping to see
some "sign" or demonstration of the divine power of
Jesus. The apostle John uses "sign" (semeion)
to point to the supernatural power of God behind the
miracle, and thus always gave evidence to Jesus as
the Son of God. However, many people failed to see
the "sign" when they saw the miracles.
Herod kept on questioning
Jesus at length with many words. "Herod was staging
a show," but Jesus revealed absolutely nothing to
him. The implication is Jesus did not answer with a
single word. Lenski says, "This silence was a rebuke
to Herod." Herod refused jurisdiction over Jesus,
and after interrogating him, he sent Jesus back to
Pilate. It is interesting that Pilate used Herod's
refusal to try Jesus as his argument to release
"And the chief priests
and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him
vehemently" (Luke 23:10). The chief priests and
scribes pressed their accusations "vehemently" (eutonos),
i.e. powerfully, vigorously, vehemently, even
violently. Robertson says, "They stood by while
Herod quizzed Jesus and when He refused to answer,
they broke loose with the accusations."
Herod along with his
small detachment of soldiers "after treating Him
with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a
gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate" (Luke
23:11). They made fun of Jesus mocking Him, treating
Him with ridicule as the King of the Jews. They
scoffed at Him and treated Him as nothing. They put
a magnificent, elegant, bright shining garment of a
king on Jesus. They mocked Him as a king. Ray
Summers suggests Herod and his soldiers were
"playing a joke on the Roman governor. . . . One can
almost hear a mocking, 'Here is your king; go on a
Appearance before Pilate
"Pilate slowly and
reluctantly and in fear surrendered to the demand of
the Sanhedrin for the crucifixion of Christ,"
observes A. T. Robertson.
It is near sunrise and
the Jewish leaders are anxious to get their
death-warrant for the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate
returns to the Bema in front of the Jewish leaders.
His judgment seat was a golden throne placed on an
elevated pavement of marble.
What will be the
decision of the judge?
"Pilate summoned the
chief priests and the rulers and the people, and
said to them, 'You brought this man to me as one who
incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having
examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in
this man regarding the charges which you make
against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back
to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been
done by Him. Therefore I will punish Him and release
Him'" (Luke 23:13-16).
Pilate saw the
disapproval of the crowd and quickly decided to
chastise Jesus and release Him. This of course did
not satisfy those who thirst for the blood of Jesus.
Barabbas or Jesus?
Each of the four gospels
gives us the desperate decision of Pilate to give
the people a choice according to the time honored
tradition of the Roman governor to pardon one
prisoner at the Passover each year. Surely
these god-fearing people would choose Jesus over a
murderous insurrectionist! (Mark 15:6-8)
"So when the people
gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you
want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who
is called Christ?' For he knew that because of envy
they had handed Him over. While he was sitting on
the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message,
saying, 'Have nothing to do with that righteous Man;
for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because
of Him.' But the chief priests and the elders
persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put
Jesus to death. But the governor said to them,
'Which of the two do you want me to release for
you?' And they said, 'Barabbas'" (Matthew 27:17-21).
All four gospels tells us
the crowd that had gathered outside the palace cried
out together demanding that Barabbas be released and
Jesus crucified (Mark 15:9-11; Matt. 27:17-21; Luke
23:18-19; John 18:40).
Pilate's wife was a
nervous wreck and had a bad dream. She sent word to
Pilate while he was sitting on the bema saying,
"Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for
last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of
Him" (Matt. 27:19).
Scourging of Jesus
Again with desperation
Pilate thought that a good Roman scourging of Jesus
would soften the cruel hearts of the religious
leaders. John says Pilate took Jesus and scourged
Him (John 19:1). It was nothing more than beating
the prisoner to death. It was an extremely cruel
form of punishment. The Romans knew no limit to the
number of strokes against the naked prisoner. The
instrument of torture was a cat-o'-nine-tails with
iron, glass, bone, hooks attached to the ends of the
thongs of leather. It was not infrequent that the
victim died from such a beating.
John Shepherd describes
this beating. "The scourge was a whip with several
thongs, each loaded with acorn-shaped balls of lead,
or sharp pieces of bone or spikes. Stripped of His
clothes, His hands tied to a column or stake with
His back bent, the victim was lashed with the
flagels by six lictors, who plied these instruments
of torture with severity almost to the point of the
death of the prisoner. Each stroke cut into the
quivering flesh, until the veins and sometimes the
entrails were laid bare. Often the scourge struck
the face and knocked out the eyes and teeth.
Scourging almost always ended in fainting and
sometimes even in death" (The Christ of the
Gospels, p. 589).
John tells us the
soldiers plaited a crown of thorns and put it on
Jesus' head, and placed a purple robe on His
bleeding lacerated body. The placed a reed scepter
in His hands and then they came up to Jesus saying
with mockery, "Hail, King of the Jews." The slapped
Him with their hands. They repeatedly spat in His
Pilate went outside again
and declared to the Jews, "I find no crime in Him."
He presented Jesus to them wearing a crown of thorns
and the purple robe. Arrogantly he declared,
"Behold, the man!" "What then shall I do to Him whom
you call the King of the Jews?" (Mark. 15:12; Matt.
27:22; Luke 23:20; John 19:5).
The bloodthirsty mob grew
stronger in their demands and cried out again.
"Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Pilate replied, "Why,
what evil has He done? I have found no cause of
death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and
release Him" (Luke 23:20-22).
Desperately the Jews
finally reveal their true heart. "We have a law, and
by that law He ought to die because He made Himself
out to be the Son of God" (John 19:7). When Pilate
herd that he was even more afraid.
Pilate took Jesus back
into the palace. "Who are You?" (John 19:9) "Jesus
gave him no answer" John informs us. So Pilate said
to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know
that I have authority to release You, and I have
authority to crucify You?" Jesus answered, "You
would have no authority over Me, unless it had been
given you from above; for this reason he who
delivered Me to you has the greater sin" (John
Pilate sought even more
desperately to release Jesus (v. 12).
You are not Caesar's
The antagonism between
Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders grew more
intense. They threatened Pilate, "If you release
this man, you are not Caesar's friend!" (John
18:12). That was their greatest intimidation. He was
well aware that the evil Sanhedrin would send a
report to the Emperor resulting in his removal of
office and banishment from the Empire.
The Roman Emperor
Tiberius was on the island of Capri gravely ill with
a loathsome disease. He was paranoid with suspicion
and full of revenge for anyone who would cross him.
Frederic Farrar wrote:
"Panic-stricken, the unjust judge, in obedience to
his own terrors, consciously betrayed the innocent
victim to the anguish of death. He who had so often
prostituted justice was now unable to achieve the
one act of justice which he desired. . . . He who
had so often abused authority, was now rendered
impotent to exercise it, for once, on the side of
right. . . . his pleasant vices had been converted
into the instrument of his punishment" (Life of
Christ, p. 303).
Behold your King!
Pilate makes one last
desperate attempt at justice. His desire is to
release Jesus. He took his place upon the bema, and
brought Jesus out before the people.
Pilate turns to the Jews
and declares, "Behold your King!" (John 18:14).
The Jewish leaders
stirred up the crowd with loud frenzy calling for
Jesus' crucifixion (Luke 23:23). So 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" (John 19:15).
With these words they
sealed the doom of the nation. The mob cried louder
and louder demanding the crucifixion of Jesus.
"I am innocent of
the blood of this righteous man."
Pilate feared the mob and
gave up. "When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing
nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he
took water and washed his hands in front of the
crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this Man's blood;
see to that yourselves.' And all the people said,
'His blood shall be on us and on our children!'"
Five times Christ is
declared innocent of the charges brought against Him
by the Jews. He was innocent. (1) Luke 23:4; John
18:38; (2) Luke 23:14; (3) Luke 23:15; (4) John
19:4-6; Mark 15:14; Matt. 27:23; Luke 23:22 (5)
Pilate may have washed
his hands thinking he was innocent of the blood of a
righteous man, but in reality "Pilate could not
escape the sense of his responsibility. There was a
custom among the Greeks, Jews, and Romans of that
time that when a man shed blood, he would wash his
hands, thus symbolically cleansing away their stain.
Pilate felt that he was a murderer. The tragic reply
came back like an echo of a groan from future
generations: 'His blood be on us and on our
children.' Thirty years later, on this very spot,
judgment was pronounced against some of the best
citizens of Jerusalem. Of the 3,600 victims of the
governor's fury, not a few were scourged and
crucified! Judas died in a loathsome suicide, the
house of Annas was destroyed some years later,
Caiaphas was deposed a year after the crucifixion,
and Pilate was soon after banished to Gaul and there
died in suicide. When Jerusalem fell, her wretched
citizens were crucified around her walls until, in
the historian's grim language, 'space was wanting
for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies.' The
horrors of the siege of Jerusalem are unparalleled
in history" (John W. Shepherd, Christ of the
Gospels, p. 592).
A. T. Robertson notes,
"The guilt of the Sanhedrin (both Pharisees and
Sadducees unite in the demand for the blood of
Jesus) is beyond dispute. . . The Pharisees began
the attacks against Jesus on theological and
ecclesiastical grounds. The Sadducees later joined
the conspiracy against Christ. Judas was a mere tool
of the Sanhedrin, who had his resentments and
grievances to avenge. There is guilt enough for all
the plotters in the greatest wrong of the ages" (Harmony
of the Gospels, p. 225 footnote).
Release Barabbas -
From the judgment seat
Pilate submitted to their intimidations and gave the
sentence they demanded. He released Barabbas, the
insurrectionist and murder, but delivered Jesus up
to their will to be scourged and crucified (Mark
15:15; Matt. 27:26; Luke 23:24-26; John 19:16).
What would we have done
if we had been there that day? What would have been
our response to the appeal of the Jewish religious
leaders? Would we have shouted, "Crucify Him!
Crucify Him!" What if we had been Pilate? How would
we have responded to the evidence?
We were not there, but we
are still confronted with the same evidence and the
same decision. What will you do with Jesus Christ?
The truth is He died in your place on the cross.
"The soul that sins will surely die." "The wages of
sin is death." Jesus died as our substitute, in our
place, on the cross. And because of that
substitutionary penal death the LORD God offers us
eternal life. Jesus said, "For God so loved the
world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life" (John 3:16). The apostle Paul wrote:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of
God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 6:23). Eternal life or salvation is a free
gift because Jesus paid for it in full when He died
for you on the cross. "Believe in the Lord
Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your
household" (Acts 16:31).
Title: John 18:28-38
Jesus' Civil Trials before Pilate
Series: Life of