Jesus and Pilate
- Main Text: John 18:28-40
- Accompanying Text: Psalm 145:10-13
John records how Jesus was interrogated by the former High Priest, Annas, the father-in-law of the then current High Priest, Caiaphas. Witnesses were called to testify against Jesus, but their testimonies did not agree. “The high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, “I am…” Then “the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy’” (Mark 14:61-64 ESV). “Though our contemporary ears may not rightly hear the audacity of Jesus’ claim, the high priest clearly does, and he condemns Jesus for it…That morning the Jewish authorities confer and decide to send Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. The ball is now in Pilate’s court. The Jewish rulers have decided. From this point on all they can do is cheer or jeer from the sidelines…” 
Although John’s account of Jesus’ last days is fuller than the Synoptics, he does not record Pilate’s wife’s dream, the washing of Pilate’s hands, and the trial before Herod. As usual, however, John’s details relate well to archaeological and historical data. For example, the events in the hall of judgement: “Jesus was led from the House of Caiaphas ‘into the Praetorium and it was early, and they [the priests] themselves entered not into the Praetorium, that they might not be defiled but might eat the Passover’ (John 18:28-29). Pilate ‘therefore went out to them’ to find out what the accusation was. This description makes it clear that the place was situated outside the Praetorium proper, and that Jesus was in prison inside the adjacent camp. The priests might have ventured within the outer gate but no further for fear of becoming ritually impure. We are then told that Pilate went in and out of the Praetorium, with Jesus being scourged, and then he ‘went out again,’ all of which suggests that the actual trial took place in an open space (John 18:33,38; 19:4,13). Jesus was eventually brought out to the place of the tribunal wearing a crown of thorns and purple robes, which enflamed the crowd and then was taken back into the Praetorium camp with Pilate following (John 19:5,9). John tells us that Pilate subsequently brought Jesus outside again and that he then sat on his judgment-seat (bema) at an elevated place (gabbatha)next to the place called a stone pavement (lithostrotos). The information provided by John fits well with what we gather from Josephus regarding the Roman tribunal being situated at an elevated location on the west side of the Praetorium”.
“Jesus is a messenger of truth. He has existence and purpose before he was born. His birth was a ‘coming into the world’ to achieve that purpose, to tell the world the truth…‘Pilate, I have come to tell the truth. If you are interested in truth then you will listen to me.’ But Pilate isn’t listening. It would appear that Pilate has doubts about whether anyone tells the truth, whether anyone is credible, and whether such a thing as truth even exists…His world is one of political expediency in order to retain power.
He dismisses talk of truth and goes outside
When he comes back inside, Pilate uses language he does understand. A crown of thorns thrust brutally upon the followed by beatings and humiliation. Jesus replies in a language he understands. Calmly taking the pain and the beating without any bitterness, any rage, any fear or any loathing.
It scares Pilate. He has not met this before. In anyone.
Then his fears concerning the identity of Jesus are heightened by the chief priests referring to Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son. The question arises in his mind: where is this man from? This is not about Galilee and Bethlehem and the birthplace of prophets. This is a Roman fear of accidentally getting on the wrong side of the gods. Jesus’ kingdom is from another place. Where is he from? But Jesus won’t tell him”. 
Thoughts re application today
That Pilate is intrigued by Jesus’ personality, integrity and innocence becomes clear from the text, especially the discussion about truth. Pilate came from a background where Greeks and Romans alike were often engaged in discussing the meaning of truth. So many groups claimed to have a monopoly on truth — perhaps that’s why Pilate appears so jaundiced. Afterwards Pilate recognises that there’s something kingly about Jesus and looks for a way out both for Jesus and for himself. “I find no guilt in him”, said Pilate (John 18:38).
“Under normal circumstances, I doubt that Pilate would have much hesitation in executing a troublemaker. But the occasion is the eve of Passover, the holiest of the Jewish holidays. Worse yet, Passover celebrated God’s deliverance of his people from foreign bondage. Pilate would certainly have made this connection in knowing the workings of the people over whom he ruled. Though he did not lack in desire to demonstrate his and Rome’s power, sustaining his position as governor of this region and keeping the pax romana (Roman peace) at times required greater precision and acumen. Did he really want to put to death a popular prophet and healer on the eve of the Passover, just outside the walls of Jerusalem? Perhaps a beating or imprisonment would suffice. Let the people decide”. 
Some other Scripture Resources
- Mark 15:1-5
- Matthew 27:1-18
- Acts 13:28
- 1 Timothy 6:13
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Craig A. Evans and Tom Wright, Jesus, the Final Days, published by SPCK, UK, in 2008:19.
- Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: the Archaeological Evidence, published by HarperOne, UK, in 2009:104.
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the Heart of John’s Gospel published by Hodder & Stroughton, UK, 2021:281-282.
- Craig A. Evans and Tom Wright, Jesus, the Final Days, published by SPCK, UK, in 2008:20.