28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 18:28-32 ESV
John has chosen to give an abbreviated version of Jesus’ trial before the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps it was because he understood this charade to be anything but a fair trial. Jesus had been brought before these self-righteous religious leaders for questioning but they had already made up their minds concerning His guilt. In his gospel account, Matthew records that all the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. And while Jesus was being interrogated by Annas, the members of the Sanhedrin were busy plotting how they could falsely accuse Jesus.
…the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. – Matthew 26:59 NLT
But according to Jewish law, they were required to have two witnesses with corroborating testimonies.
Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” – Matthew 26:60-61 NLT
When they demanded that Jesus answer these charges, He remained silent. And it was not until the high priest demanded, “tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT), that Jesus spoke.
“You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Matthew 26:64 NLT
In a rather melodramatic display of shock and awe, the high priest tore his own robe and cried out, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Matthew 26:65-66 NLT). And the council-turned-mob shouted in unison, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 NLT).
Their verbal declaration of Jesus’ guilt was followed by physical abuse as they began to beat him with their fists and spit in His face. And as they slapped the face of the Son of God, they mocked Him saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” (Matthew 26:68 NLT).
They had their official charge of blasphemy, which was a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 24:16). They had their two witnesses. Now, all they needed was the assistance of the Roman government to see that Jesus’ death was carried out. According to Roman law, the Jews were prohibited from carrying out any form of a death sentence. But it was going to be unlikely that the Romans would execute Jesus based on a violation of some obscure religious law. So, the high priest and his companions knew they would have to drum up additional charges that portrayed Jesus as a threat to the Roman government.
Interestingly enough, John records none of this. Perhaps he considered the whole affair a travesty of justice and not worth the time and effort to document. Whatever his reasons, John picks up the story in the morning as they transferred Jesus to the headquarters of Pilate, the Roman governor over the region.
In a subtle statement cloaked in irony, John records that Jesus’ “accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover” (John 18:28 NLT). Unwilling to risk becoming ceremonially unclean by entering the un-kosher home of a Gentile, these pious hypocrites chose to remain outside. There were the same men who had gone out of their way to solicit false witnesses so they could draw up fabricated charges against Jesus. Their self-righteous display of moral superiority was a sham and their actions gave proof of the veracity of Jesus’ earlier statements concerning them.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT
These men were little more than actors in a play. In fact, the Greek term, “hypocrite” with which Jesus described them was commonly used to refer to an actor or stage player. To be a hypocrite is to portray yourself falsely, putting on an outward act meant to conceal your true nature or identity. And as these men stood outside the offices of the Roman governor, they pompously displayed their commitment to moral purity as they prepared to betray the sinless Lamb of God and condemn Him to an undeserved death. His face still red and swollen from their repeated slaps and beatings, Jesus, the innocent Son of God was handed over to the Romans by men who were spiritual pretenders, full of pretense and dissimulation.
When Pilate demanded to know what charges they were bringing against Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders responded somewhat sarcastically, “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” (John 18:30 NLT). It wasn’t that they lacked any charges to level against Jesus, it was that they wanted Pilate to know just how serious they were. According to their description of Jesus, He was kakopoios – an evildoer. Luke records that they accused Jesus of trying to foment an insurrection against the Romans.
“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT
But, once again, John leaves out these details.
Pilate, out of frustration over the early morning disturbance and the lack of an official charge against Jesus, demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He had heard nothing that deemed this matter worthy of a Roman trial. And in an effort to drive home the seriousness of their intentions, the Jews reminded Pilate that they were forbidden by Roman law to carry out capital punishment. They had deemed Jesus worthy of death and they would not be satisfied until Pilate acquiesced and accommodated their wishes.
It is at this point in the narrative that John adds the note: “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 18:32 ESV). This is similar to what he wrote when Jesus had declared, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). John had added the aside, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV).
Several times in his gospel, John reports that the Jews had intended to stone Jesus, but had failed to do so (John 8:59; 10:31). According to God’s divine plan, stoning would not be the means by which Jesus would die. He would be “lifted up” on a cross. And for that to happen, Jesus would have to be condemned by the Roman government. Crucifixion was the official form of capital punishment used by the Romans. And God had ordained that Jesus would be betrayed by the Jews and officially executed by the Romans. And just days after Jesus ascension, the apostle Peter would address a crowd of Jews, declaring the sovereign will of God behind all that took place during Jesus’ final days.
“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.” – Acts 2:22-23 NLT
And sometime later, Peter would pray a powerful prayer of thanks to God, expressing the gratitude of the believers for all that God had accomplished through the sacrificial death of His Son on their behalf. And all that God had done had been in spite of the efforts of the Gentiles and the Jews who had joined forces against the Son of God.
“Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will.” – Acts 4:27-28 NLT
What a remarkable thing to consider that all the forces of Rome and Israel were aligning themselves to stand against Jesus the Savior of the world. The Jews were the chosen people of God and the Romans were the most powerful nation on earth, and they were sworn enemies. But these two unlikely partners were linking arms in order to put to death the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And all according to the sovereign will of Almighty God. They would be instruments in His all-powerful hands, unwittingly performing His will and accomplishing His divine strategy for the redemption of men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.