1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. – John 19:1-16 ESV
When Pilate had asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33 ESV), he was not implying a hidden suspicion that perhaps Jesus was who the rumors claimed Him to be. The Roman governor was simply trying to ascertain the reason behind the Sanhedrin’s hatred for Jesus. If Jesus was their king, why were they so desperate to have Him put to death? At the end of the day, Pilate could have cared less whether Jesus was a king of not. He simply wanted to avoid any kind of trouble during the Passover celebration, a time when Jerusalem was overflowing with pilgrims, making the city a potential tinderbox for civil unrest.
And when Pilate had found no evidence that Jesus had committed a crime worthy of capital punishment, he had offered to release Jesus, as part of an annual custom during Passover. But the Jewish religious leaders had refused his offer, demanding instead that the governor release a convicted criminal names Barabbas.
From what happens next, it seems quite evident that Pilate harbored no suspicions that Jesus was royalty. He had Jesus flogged and then stood back and watched as his soldiers “twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe” (John 19:2 ESV). As the blood flowed down the face of Jesus, the soldiers took turns slapping and mocking Him, crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:3 ESV). This blattant display of disrespect was not only aimed at Jesus, but was intended to offend the high-minded religious leaders. It was a reminder of what would happen to any Jew who chose to stand against the power of Rome and the sovereign reign of Caesar.
After beating and humiliating Him, Pilate presented Jesus to the members of the Sanhedrin who remained outside the royal residence. He parades Jesus before them, dressed in a purple robe and wearing a crown of thorns, and announces once again, “I find no guilt in him” (John 19:4 ESV). Don’t miss the significance of what Pilate is doing. He is presenting Jesus to them as their “king” – dressed in nothing more than a borrowed robe and wearing a crude crown of thorns. And he loudly and sarcastically declares for all to hear, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5 ESV).
This scene brings to mind the prophetic words of Isaiah, describing the future suffering of the Messiah.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… – Isaiah 53:3 ESV
Here was the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the true King of Israel, being displayed before His own people as a wretched and rejected, beaten and abandoned shell of a man. But rather than feeling pitty for Jesus, the chief priests and the officers cried out in anger, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (John 19:6 ESV).
Pilate, frustrated by their incessant demands, once again declared His belief that Jesus was innocent. “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him” (John 19:6 ESV). Jesus had committed no crime worthy of death. He had led no insurrections or had fomented no rebellions against the Roman government. So, if the Jews wanted Him dead, they would have to do it themselves.
Pilate’s persistent insistence of Jesus’ innocence force the Jews to take a different tactic. They reminded Pilate that, according to Jewish law, anyone who committed blasphemy was to be put to death. And since they were prohibited by Roman law from carrying out capital punishment on their own, they wanted him to use his authority to sanction Jesus’ death. In his gospel account, Matthew indicates that things got so heated that Pilate feared a riot would take place.
So, in one last attempt to avoid a very ugly situation, Pilate asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” (John 19:9 ESV). The Jews had just claimed that Jesus “ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7 ESV). But Pilate’s question regarding Jesus’ place of origin doesn’t indicate that he was beginning to believe Jesus was from heaven. He was simply wanting to know what part of the country Jesus called home. Luke makes this clear in his gospel account. The Jews had accused Jesus of stirring up the people, “teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place” (Luke 23:5 ESV). This led Pilate to ask whether Jesus was a Galilean.
And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. – Luke 23:7 ESV
John’s emphasis on Pilate’s question is intentional because it supports the overall theme of his gospel account: The deity of Jesus. Pilate’s question was intended to solicit geographical information for jurisdictional purposes. But John used it as a subtle reminder that Jesus was “the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51 ESV). Or, as he put it in his first epistle, Jesus was the Son who had been sent by the Father.
…the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. – 1 John 4:14 ESV
Jesus refused to answer Pilate’s question, because He knew the governor had no interest in who He really was. But Pilate, shocked by Jesus’ silence, arrogantly responded, “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” (John 19:10 NLT). Yet Jesus informed him that nothing was further from the truth.
“You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” – John 19:11 NLT
Pilate’s authority came from Caesar but Jesus revealed that there was a much higher authority behind all that was happening. Every player in this unfolding drama was under the sovereign hand of God Almighty. And while Pilate would be held responsible for his actions, he was only operating according to God’s will. The one who had committed the greater sin was Caiaphas, the high priest of the Jews who had chosen to turn Jesus over to the Romans. Both of these men would be complicit in the death of Jesus, but Caiaphas, as a Jew and a priest over the people of Israel, would have a higher degree of culpability. But neither man had any real power or authority over Jesus. They were simply instruments in the hands of God, accomplishing His divine will by playing the roles they had been assigned by Him.
John indicates that Pilate went out of his way to release Jesus. Matthew adds that Pilate’s wife had warned him against convicting Jesus because she had suffered a disturbing nightmare about this man (Matthew 27:19). The Jewish leaders, sensing that they had Pilate on the ropes, pressed their demand for Jesus’ death, warning the governor that his refusal to carry out their wish would make him look like an enemy of Caesar. So, finally giving into the pressure, Pilate mounted the dais to the seat of judgment, where he proclaimed, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14 ESV).
Once again, John carefully chooses the details he wants to include in his record of the proceedings. And he continues to focus his attention of the kingship of Jesus. The soldiers have dressed Jesus in a robe of royal purple and placed a mock crown on His head. Now Pilate declares Him to be the King of the Jews. And in anger and indignation, the Jews cry out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” (John 19:15 ESV). They refuse to acknowledge Jesus as their King. They reject the deity and sovereignty of the Son of God.
And when Pilate mockingly asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?,” the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15 ESV). With these words, the religious leaders think they are condeming Jesus to death. But, in reality, they are condemning themselves. And they are fulfilling the words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus, one of their own members.
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:17-18 ESV
Jesus was their King, but they refused to accept Him. Now, their failure to believe in Him would condemn them. They sealed their fate when they declared their allegiance to Caesar over the one who had come to be their Savior.
And John closes this scene with the sobering words, “he delivered him over to them to be crucified” (John 19:16 ESV).
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.