EHP17: Day 8

John 19 : 1 – 16

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God’.

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

This passage paints a confusing picture. Pilate has not found Jesus guilty of any crime, let alone sentenced him to any punishment, but his soldiers have already started treating him like a man condemned to death.

Throughout the Gospel John has been telling us that Jesus knows God intimately. That in the beginning Jesus was with God and was God. In John 14:6, Jesus states, “no one comes to the Father but through him”. He remains the true image of God even though he is beaten, bruised and bleeding, mocked by the soldiers who have dressed him up in the image of the Emperor, wearing purple. Pilate says “here’s the man”, not realising that Jesus is much more, but is still confused as to what to actually do with him.

The history of the Jewish people as told in the Bible is one of oppression. They had been captive for long swathes of biblical history. They were “strangers in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22) in Egypt, Babylon and now Judea, under the Romans, to name but a few. The Messiah the Jews of the time longed for would be a great military ruler. He would set them free from their Roman oppressors and enable them to live freely in their homeland. Therefore, the Judeans present at the time must have been acutely aware of the Emperor, their ruler, who ensured that they lived as subjects rather than free people.

It is therefore extremely unsettling to see the chief priests in this passage invoke Caesar’s name. They want Jesus to be put to death so much, that they are prepared to subvert this hated ruler for their own ends. They do this in a clever way, knowing that what Pilate fears most is Caesar finding out about something that he has done and disapproving. They as good as as Pilate: “you wouldn’t want Caesar to know that you hadn’t put this pseudo-Emperor to death, would you?”.  John writes that Pilate was afraid when they tell him Jesus claims to be the Son of God. He is even more afraid when Caesars’ name is mentioned over, and immediately hands Jesus over, sentencing him to crucifixion without a word.