Theme: Jesus before Pilate
In this week’s lessons, we see that although Pilate declared Jesus innocent, nevertheless, he allowed for his crucifixion, and so failed to stand up for what was right.
Scripture: John 18:28-19:16
Pilate went back inside the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Now, Jesus says to him, “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?” Now that might sound evasive, but it’s not, because what Jesus is really saying to Pilate is this: Are you asking that on your own, and therefore, as a Roman, so we have to define this matter of kingship in Roman terms? Or are you asking it on the basis of charges the Jews made, so that I’m supposed to answer it in Jewish terms? It’s quite a different thing, because if he is accused of being a king by Roman terms, he could say, “No I’m not. I’m not here to challenge Caesar.” But if he’s talking about it in Jewish terms, then yes he is—he’s the Messiah.
Pilate then tells Jesus that he himself is no Jew. Jesus’ own people and the chief priests are the ones who handed Jesus over to him. It’s their question. They’re the ones that are saying that Jesus is making himself out to be some kind of king. So, Jesus says, “All right. I’ll tell you what my kingdom is like. And it’s true, I’m a king if you’re asking it in Jewish terms, but my kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. My kingdom is from another place.”
Pilate presses it again. He’s conducting a good examination, isn’t he? “Now, you’re acknowledging, then, that you’re a king,” says Pilate. “You’re a king, then. I heard you use that word ‘kingdom,’ and if you have a kingdom, then you must be a king.” And Jesus said, “Yes, that’s right, I am a king. In fact, this is the very reason I came into the world. I was born in order to be a king. But what that means is to testify to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me.” Thus, Jesus is a king, and he does have a kingdom. But it is a kingdom of truth, which of course is not the kind of kingdom Pilate was thinking about.
Now, is it any wonder when Pilate heard that he said what he did? He must have been thinking, “Come on, what is truth? If that’s what you’re talking about, that is ridiculous. You’re wasting my time. What do I care about kings of truth? You know, I care about kings who control legions and who raise up followers and are trying to drive out Romans; that’s the kind of king we care about. You want to be a king of truth, you can be a king of truth all you want.” And so he goes out and he says, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
You see, that’s a real trial, isn’t it? He forced them to formulate an accusation, he examined Jesus on the basis of the accusation, he allowed him to give a defense, he heard the defense, and he pronounced that he wasn’t guilty in the end. And not only that, but he pronounces him “not guilty” three times. You find it there in chapter 18, verse 38: “I find no basis for a charge against him.” You find it in the next chapter in the fourth verse: “I find no basis for a charge against him.” And then it’s there again in verse 6: “I find no basis for a charge against him.” So three times over, he says that Jesus is not guilty.
Now, doesn’t that puzzle you? Here’s this man that we have no reason to think highly of, who had no respect for the Jews and their feelings, but who, nevertheless, on the occasion of this trial, as it’s reported in the Gospels, conducts himself as an exemplary judge, and as a model character. It’s inconsistent, isn’t it? Furthermore, it’s puzzling for this reason: If anybody had a right to portray Pilate in a good light, it would be the secular authorities and writers. And if anybody had a reason to portray Pilate in a bad light, it would be the Gospel writers, because Pilate was the one who crucified their Messiah. And yet it’s just the reverse. The secular writers tell us how bad he is, and the Gospel writers tell us how well he performed on this occasion.
People have thought about that. Let me share with you the suggestion that was made by Frank Morrison who wrote the book Who Moved the Stone?—the book on the crucifixion and the resurrection. He was a lawyer and he examined this very carefully, as a lawyer would tend to do, in terms of the character of the man and all of the details of the story that are presented to us. And what Morrison suggests is that the answer to this dilemma is found in Matthew’s Gospel, rather than John’s Gospel. In Matthew’s account of the trial, we have an interesting part of the story in chapter 27, verse 19. There we are told that while Pilate was in the middle of the trial, his wife came to him, and she had sent a message. “While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’”
Now what Frank Morrison suggests is that Pilate and his wife were spending the evening together when the Jewish Sanhedrin asked for an audience. Pilate would have gone out to meet them, and his wife overheard what was going on. The Sanhedrin would have said, “We have a prisoner that we would like to have executed. He’s disturbing all sorts of things here. If you would consent to hear the case in the morning, we’re going to do all the formalities tonight. If you would agree, we can have the execution tomorrow and it’ll all be over before sundown, which is when the special Sabbath starts. And so Pilate said, “Fine, all right,” and he went back in.
Now Morrison suggests his wife heard that. Now they go to bed at night and in the night the wife is dreaming, which is what she says here. She was troubled at night in a dream by thoughts about this man. Perhaps that dream came from God himself in order to trouble her. Or maybe she was just troubled over the way this was all handled, recognizing that it was irregular. Or to go along with this, perhaps she had even heard something about Jesus and was inclined in his favor. Whatever it was, when she woke up the next morning and realized Pilate was gone and that he would already be engaged in the trial, she immediately sent a messenger because it would be too late if she waited until after he had pronounced the verdict.
How did Pilate regard Jesus’ answer that his was a kingdom of truth?
What is puzzling about Pilate from this part of the story?
Reflection: Note the fairness Pilate shows in his handling of Jesus’ trial. Do you show fairness in your dealings with others?