Chapter 3 The Mock Trial

John 18:28-40

Christ before Pilate

After the religious trial of Jesus, the civil trial began. “They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas to the Hall of Judgment, and it was early” (v. 28). They had bound the Lord Jesus and led Him to Annas (v. 13). Annas sent Him to Caiaphas (v. 24). Afterwards, they brought Him to the Praetorium, the governor’s official residence. The Son of God, was led as a Lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).

“Hall of Judgment?” In my Bible I have thus placed a question mark. Where is the vaunted Roman justice, Rome’s legacy of jurisprudence to civilization? Human systems without God cannot bear close scrutiny.

“It was early.” Morning had just dawned on the greatest day in history. I read somewhere that for our Lord, this day dawned with garments dripping blood, but for us it came clothed in fine white linen which is the righteousness of the saints (believers). It was the day of Jesus’ great agony, anticipated since Eden where it was prophesied that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Who can comprehend what that day meant to God? Who can fathom what it means to us? It was the “birthday of our eternal redemption “ (Krummacher).

“It was early.” The enemies of the Lord Jesus had worked all night. I regret to make the contrast; “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40). Why will men often work harder and longer to do evil than believers will to do good? Do we give up too easily? The enemies of our Lord did not. They wanted Him crucified. They would have worked the next night, and the next, and the next.

“And they themselves did not enter into the Judgment Hall in order that they might eat the Passover.” (v. 28)

They felt that murdering an innocent man would not defile them, but that entering a Gentile house that was not properly cleansed of leaven, would make them ceremonially unclean and thus disqualify them from eating the Passover. This is ritualism — as long as you keep up the outward forms of religious observances, it does not matter how you live.

One Monday morning I read in the local newspaper of two men who had gone to church the day before and then got into an argument after the service. They began to fight outside the church, and stabbed each other to death.

What good is religion that does not change the heart? “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). That is why the Gospel begins with a new life which God puts within by the new birth. Then, we work it out in daily living (Phil. 2:12). Man-made religions merely put something on the outside. But, even true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ can be guilty of a kind of ritualism. We can thoughtlessly partake of the Lord’s Supper and then murder someone’s reputation by a slanderous word. We can crucify Christ afresh with impure thoughts, or nail Him to the cross again with envy. “Pilate knew that for envy they had delivered Him” (Matt. 27:18).

Pilate the Pendulum

Pilate therefore went out to them, and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” (v. 29)

The very structure of Scripture reveals the character of Pilate:

    v.28 — Pilate is inside the Praetorium.

    v.29—Since they will not go in, lest they be defiled, he goes out to them.

    v.33— Failing to secure any charge against the Lord Jesus, He goes in.

    v.38 — Overwhelmed by our Lord, Pilate goes out again to the crowd.

    19:1— Unable to quell their hatred, he goes in again.

    19:4—Seeking to elicit their sympathy, he takes the bleeding Jesus out.

    19:8— Helpless before their insincere charge of blasphemy, he takes Jesus inside.

    19:12—Finally, he brings Jesus out to Gabbatha.

In and out — Pilate, the Pendulum! He had no courage of his convictions; no strength to stand for what he knew was right. Personal position, not justice, was his only goal. Self-love and expediency motivated him. Pilate’s great sin was compromise: trying to walk a middle course between right and wrong. It is impossible.

They answered and said to Him, “If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered him up to you” (v. 30).

Having no charge against Christ, they give an evasive answer. They infer that our Lord was an evildoer, without stating any facts. Just because they brought Him for trial, didn’t make Him an evildoer. It is very easy for us, also, to be guilty of this: insinuation without foundation, to gain a point. There may also be the thought in their words: “Pilate, you know what wonderful people we are, and that we would never have brought Him here if He were not a criminal.” We must be careful that we never do the same. In a discussion with someone we can say, or at least think: “After all, I’m the missionary, or the pastor, or the elder, or the deacon, or the Sunday School teacher, or whoever, and you know that /wouldn’t say it if it were not true.” Everything we say should be true, but it isn’t true just because we say it. It has to be true in itself.

A Compromise

Pilate therefore said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law” (v. 31).

Pilate wanted nothing to do with the case. This was a hasty, insincere attempt to set the Lord Jesus free. Pilate knew very well that Rome took from conquered peoples the right of capital punishment. He tried four expediencies to release our Lord:

    1. He tried to make the Jews deal with the case themselves.
    2. He sent Jesus to Herod to try Him (Luke 23:7).
    3. He proposed to release the Lord Jesus in honor of the feast (John 18:39).
    4. He scourged Jesus, hoping that the crowd would then let Him go (John 19:1).

“The Jews therefore said to him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death “ (v. 31)

They did not want a trial; they wanted a death sentence. It had all been pre-arranged in the illegal, night meeting of the Sanhedrin where “they all condemned Him to be guilty of death” (Mark 14:64).

Fulfillment of a Prophecy

“That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spoke, signifying what death He should die.” (v. 32)

This refers to the words of Jesus in John 12:32, 33: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me. This He said, signifying what death He should die.” He was lifted up from the earth on the cross, and He will draw all men to Him. This does not mean that in the end everybody will be saved. Universalism is not taught in the Bible. He did mean that because He was hung up on the cross, He is the inescapable Christ. He will draw all men to Him, either as Savior in this life, or as Judge in the life to come.

The insincere charge of the Jews against the Lord Jesus was that of blasphemy: “The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). The Jewish penalty for blasphemy was stoning: “He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation of Israel shall certainly stone him” (Leviticus 24:16). But, the Lord Jesus cannot be stoned to death; He must be crucified. Thus it was prophesied, in Psalm 22. It has been said that this Psalm reads as though it had been written at the foot of the cross. It begins with the cry of our Lord from the cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” and ends with: “He has done this.” This is the same as another cry from the cross: “It is finished.” In between, there are graphic descriptions of death by crucifixion (see verses 6 to 8 and 12 through 18). These inspired words of David were written one thousand years before Calvary. They were written, too, long before death by crucifixion had entered human history. It was Rome that invented this agony of execution.

Our Lord, Himself, had said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Even the type demands that the antitype be crucified. He also said: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am” (John 8:28). At times, the Lord Jesus spoke even more clearly of His death by crucifixion, as in Matthew 20:18, 19; “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him, and the third day He shall rise again.” What a detailed prophecy and exact fulfillment! The Jews could not judge Him according to their law, the Gentiles must by theirs. He cannot be stoned to death; He must be crucified, for “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Pilate was not in charge at Gabbatha. God was in control. In every detail, Christ died for our sins “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).

Pilate Faces a Choice

‘Then Pilate entered into the Judgment Hall again, and called Jesus, and said to Him, Are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 33)

There was no escape for Pilate, he had to try the case. They had accused Jesus: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He, Himself, is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2). Little did they care about perverting the Roman nation, and not paying taxes to Caesar. They would have loved Christ if He had permitted them to make Him a .king to free them from the hated Roman yoke. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force to make Him a king, He departed again to a mountain alone” (John 6:15). At this point in the trial of our Lord, there occurs the scene to which 1 Timothy 6:13 refers: “Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession.” The Lord Jesus no doubt was seeking the heart of Pilate when He asked him: “Are you saying this of yourself, or did others tell you about Me?” We might state it this way: “Pilate, do you really want to know about Me, yourself?” Our Lord is ever the seeking Savior, even when on trial before Pilate.

“Pilate answered, Am I a Jew?” (v. 35)

This is a stock, evasive answer. It is like saying: “I have my own religion.” Religion, outside of Christ, means nothing to God. It is often the greatest barrier to salvation.

“What have You done?” (v.35)

Pilate is all wrong. Our Lord is not there because of what He has done. He is enduring all of this because of what you and I have done. God is laying on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world” (v. 36).

Jesus’ kingdom does not spring from, nor is it supported by the world. It is not advanced by worldly means. It is not earthly power, but spiritual power. It is not primarily buildings and equipment, though these are necessary, but it is the prayer meeting, holy living, soul winning, Christ honoring of a redeemed people. One day His kingdom will be on earth, but even then it will not be a worldly one. “But now is My kingdom not from here.” (v.37).

What is Truth?

“Pilate therefore said to Him: Are you a king then?” (v.37)

Pilate could not understand a king like the Lord Jesus, meekly standing there. “Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (v.37). Jesus said that He is the King of a Kingdom of truth. “Pilate said to Him, What is truth?” (v.38). Pilate told Jesus that He was a King without a kingdom. To cynical Pilate there is nothing right or wrong. There is nothing black or white. Everything is gray. This is the situation ethics of our day. “What is truth?” The primary reason for the terrible moral declension in countries like America is this very philosophy. The Bible, which used to be the standard, has been abandoned, and the culture slides. What a call this is to us believers to live the Truth!

Pilate shouted to the crowd: “I find in Him no fault at all” (v.38). We can understand that Pilate could find no fault in Him who was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He did not sin (1 Peter 2:22). Pilate should have released Him, but he wanted the crowd’s favor. He said: “You have a custom, that I should release someone to you at the Passover, Do you wish then that I release to you the King of the Jews?” (v.39).

The Jews Make a Choice

“Therefore they cried out saying, Not this Man, but Barabbas.” (v.40).

Mark wrote of Barabbas: “He made insurrection” (Mark 15:7). It is amazing that they asked for the release of one who had committed the very crime they falsely accused Jesus of. They asked for Barabbas, which means “son of a father” and rejected Jesus, the Son of God. Dr. A„T. Robertson, the great New Testament scholar writes: “They chose Barabbas in preference to Jesus and apparently Jesus died on the very cross planned for Barabbas.” Do you think that Barabbas was there at the crucifixion? I do not believe he could have stayed away. He must have been somewhere on the outskirts of the crowd, muttering to himself: “The One in the middle is dying on the cross meant for me.” We are all the Lord’s Barabbases.

“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

“Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3).

“He made Him Who knew no sin to be made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21).