John 18:28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor.
The Jewish leaders condemned Jesus, but did not have authority to kill him, so they took him to Pontius Pilate. They refused to enter his palace, however, because they thought going into a Gentile’s home could disqualify them from celebrating the Passover. Notice the irony: they kept their religion conscientiously, while pleading for the death of God’s Son. Being religious is no guarantee of being right with God.
John 18:32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
Jesus predicted that he would die by crucifixion (John 12:32-33), even though the Jews preferred stoning. At least twice during his ministry, they picked up stones to stone him (John 8:59, 10:31). And when Stephen preached about Christ, they actually did stone him (Acts 7:54-60). But the Jews were under Roman rule, and were not supposed to kill anyone. So they took Jesus to the Roman governor to have him killed the Roman way—by crucifixion. This was also important for theological reasons.
[A]nyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23), wrote Moses. If you lived in Moses’ day, and committed a capitol offense, your body might be hung on a pole after your execution. This would show that you died under God’s curse, and would serve as a deterrent to others. Jesus had to be hung on a pole to show he was bearing God’s curse for us, so we could have every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), wrote Paul.
For many, however, Jesus’ crucifixion proved that was not the Messiah, since it was inconceivable that Messiah would ever be under God’s curse. This may have emboldened Rabbi Saul to go on his rampage against Christianity (Acts 26:10). But after he met the risen Lord, Rabbi Saul learned that Jesus was hung on a pole for us (Galatians 3:13), and he became the Apostle Paul.
John 18:37 Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.
Pilate’s job was to get at the truth about Jesus, but that would not be easy. His gut was telling him one thing, and Jesus’ enemies were telling him another. So Jesus gave Pilate a clue: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. In other words, Pilate, if you want to know the truth, you have to be on the side of truth, and be willing to follow the truth, wherever it leads.
A friend of mine shared the gospel with a co-worker and warned about the awfulness of hell. The co-worker said, I don’t believe in hell. My friend replied, That’s like not believing in gravity. You can jump off a building but it’sstill going to hurt when you hit the ground. After time to reflect the man confessed, I have been praying for someone to tell me the truth.
John 18:38 What is truth? retorted Pilate.
If you were on trial for your life, and the judge said What is truth? that would not be a good sign. But Jesus came into a world of lies, so he was not surprised when the person in charge of his trial was not concerned about truth.
When I was nine years old we were having dinner at my aunt’s house, and she had cleaned all the windows. I was on my way out to the patio, when I slammed into the sliding glass door, and almost knocked myself out. Truth is that which does not go away, even when we ignore it. What is truth?, Pilate asked. But he was looking at the truth when he asked it.
And truth matters more in the long run, than often appears at first. Crucified under Pontius Pilate is part of a creed recited by Christians, every week, all around the world. Jesus is known as the greatest person who ever lived, and Pilate is known as the one who killed him.
John 19:12 Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.
Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, and that the religious leaders were acting out of self-interest (Mark 15:10). But if he set Jesus free, the high priest could report him to Rome, for not putting down a rival king. Tiberius Caesar could put an end to Pilate’s career, or even his life, so Pilate had to choose: he could do the right thing, or sacrifice Jesus to save himself.
If the tension was not high enough, it seemed like God himself was reaching out to Pilate. His wife sent him a message saying, Do not have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him (Matthew 27:19).
If she dreamed of Judgment Day, she likely saw the roles reversed. As Jesus stood trial before Pilate, the day was coming when Pilate would stand trial before Jesus. Whatever Pilate decided about Jesus would have very serious consequences.
Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and that had serious consequences (Genesis 3). Korah rebelled against Moses, and that had serious consequences (Numbers 16). David took another man’s wife, and that had serious consequences (2 Samuel 11). But nothing has more serious consequences than what we do with Jesus Christ.
We do not know what happened to Pilate. Some say he was converted; others say he killed himself. We only know for sure that he crucified the Son of God. But even that would not keep Pilate out of heaven, if he chose to repent and believe. First we make our choices, then our choices make us.
Reflection and Review
Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?
Why didn’t Pilate care about truth?
What can we learn from Pontius Pilate?