Delivered to Die

1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Mark 15:1-15 ESV

It proved to be a long night for everyone involved. Jesus had been arrested late Thursday night and taken to the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest. His interrogation by Caiaphas and the other members of the Sanhedrin had lasted well into the early morning hours of the next day. During that time, Peter had denied Jesus and fled the scene in tears. And even Judas, the disciple who had chosen to betray Jesus, had stuck around to see what happened next. When he saw that Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin, he had a change of heart. Matthew records that “when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (Matthew 27:3-4 ESV).

But his feelings of regret and remorse, while probably sincere, were of no benefit to Jesus. Judas’ decision to betray his Master had helped seal His fate. And while Judas returned the blood money he had been paid for his dastardly deed, it did nothing to assuage his guilt. In a final act of contrition, Judas took his own life (Matthew 27:5).

Meanwhile, having convicted Jesus of blasphemy, the high priest and the council convened an early morning meeting to determine their next steps. They knew that the Roman authorities would find the charge of blasphemy to be insufficient cause for authorizing the death of Jesus. So, they met one last time to deliberate on what additional charge they could bring against Jesus that would warrant His death and force the Roman governor to give his seal of approval. And it seems that they chose to accuse Jesus of high treason. If they could convince Pilate that Jesus was a dangerous revolutionary who was fomenting insurrection against the Roman government, they would achieve their goal of eliminating Jesus once and for all.

Having determined their strategy, the members of the high council had Jesus bound, and they moved en masse to the palace of the Roman governor. And Luke tells us that, once they had the ear of Pilate, these men wasted no time in pressing their charges against Jesus.

“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” – Luke 23:2 ESV

If there was one thing the Roman government would not tolerate, it was any form of sedition. They knew from experience that the key to maintaining order in any of their vassal states was to deal with rebels quickly and harshly. And as the local representative of the Roman Empire, Pilate was responsible for maintaining law and order in his region. So, when the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of being a would-be king of Israel, it got the attention of the Roman governor.

But as Pilate looked at the unimpressive figure standing before him, it is likely that he found the charges to sound a bit far-fetched. Jesus did not have the look of an insurrectionist. There was nothing about Jesus’ appearance or demeanor that would give the impression He was a threat to the Roman government. In fact, the prophet Isaiah described the Messiah in less-than-flattering terms:

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. – Isaiah 53:2-3 NLT

So, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2 ESV). There was probably a tinge of sarcasm in Pilate’s words. In a sense, he was asking Jesus, “Are YOU the king of the Jews?” Was this disheveled looking man the reason Pilate had been forced to have this early morning meeting? Was He really the cause of all the turmoil taking place?

But all Jesus said in response was, “You have said so” (Mark 15:2 ESV). He didn’t deny the charges or attempt to defend Himself. He didn’t proclaim His innocence or expose the hypocrisy of His accusers. But while Jesus remained passive and quiet, HIs enemies barraged Pilate with a litany of additional charges against Jesus. And Pilate was amazed that this prisoner was able to maintain His composure and refrain from answering the growing list of charges against him. At one point, he even asked Jesus, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” (Matthew 27:13 ESV). But Jesus refused to respond.

Amazingly, despite all the charges leveled against Jesus, Pilate reached the conclusion that He was innocent. He told the members of the Sanhedrin, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4 ESV). But refusing to accept Pilate”s verdict, they intensified their efforts, shouting, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place”  (Luke 23:5 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as a dangerous radical who was inciting trouble all throughout the region, from Judea all the way to Galilee in the north.

But again, Pilate seemed to sense that their problem with Jesus was religious in nature and had nothing to do with Rome. This man was no threat to the empire. Pilate seems to have been intrigued by Jesus. In his gospel account, John reports that Pilate questioned Jesus further about His supposed kingship.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:33 ESV

And Jesus responded by asking Pilate whether his question was motivated by personal interest or simply based on the accusations of the Sanhedrin. Pilate, taken aback by Jesus’ words, demanded to know what was really going on.

“Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

And Jesus responded with a clarification of the nature of His kingdom.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

To Pilate, this sounded like an admission of guilt, so he asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The issue was not so much whether Jesus was a king. It had more to do with the nature of His kingdom. The truth was that Jesus was a king, but not like Caesar. And He was not interested in overthrowing Rome and dethroning the emperor. His kingdom was not of this world. It was spiritual in nature. And this discussion led Pilate to conclude that this was nothing more than an internecine squabble among the Jews. So, he attempted to extricate himself from the situation by offering a compromise solution.

Over his years as prefect, Pilate had established a custom of releasing a single Jewish prisoner in honor of Passover. It made sense to Pilate that Jesus would be the obvious choice on this particular occasion. But he was surprised to hear the Jews demand the release of Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer. They specifically requested that Pilate keep Jesus under lock and key, while setting free a dangerous criminal who was a real threat to the Roman empire.

Evidently, all the commotion that morning had attracted a crowd. So, Pilate, in an attempt to pacify the crowd, had offered to release Jesus “the King of the Jews” (Mark 15:9 ESV). But the Jewish religious leaders had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, inciting them to reject Pilate’s offer and demand the release of Barabbas. When Pilate asked what He should do with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Confused by the intensity of their anger, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Mark 15:14 ESV), and the people simply shouted, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23 ESV).

And sadly, Mark records that Pilate acquiesced to the demands of the people. While he felt certain that Jesus was innocent, having done nothing worthy of death, Pilate feared the growing anger of the mob.

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. – Mark 15:15 ESV

And everything was happening just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years earlier.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

The King of the Jews “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV). And in just a few hours, the Son of God would become “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Is Faithful

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 ESV

As Jesus was standing before the Sanhedrin undergoing interrogation by the high priest, Peter had remained in the courtyard, attempting to keep himself warm by the fire while also keeping his identity hidden from the servants and guards who had participated in the arrest of Jesus. Peter and John had been the only disciples to follow Jesus after His arrest in the garden. All the others had fled into the night. Yet Peter was anything but brave. And as the night wore on, his fear began to get the best of him. He so wanted to stand by his Master and honor his commitment to defend Him to the end. But in the darkness of the courtyard, surrounded by armed guards and servants of the high priest, Peter felt alone and afraid. He had no way of knowing what was happening inside the walls of Caiaphas’ residence, but it seems likely that servants of the high priest were bringing regular reports of the proceedings to those waiting in the courtyard. The normally-impulsive Peter, who had drawn his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants, now cowered in the darkness, wondering how everything had gone so wrong.

His mind must have been flooded with memories as he thought back over the last 3-1/2 years of his life with Jesus. He could vividly recall the day when he and his brother Andrew were casting their net into the sea of Galilee, and Jesus had called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV). That had proved to be a life-changing moment for them. They had left their nets behind and become disciples of this Rabbi from Nazareth. And over the following years, they had seen Him perform inexplicable miracles, deliver powerful messages, and provide convincing proof that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. But now, Peter’s hopes of a new King and a renewed Kingdom of Israel were on the verge of collapse. Jesus was standing before the Jewish high council with His hands bound and His Messianic claims fully rejected by these powerful religious leaders. And all Peter could do was wonder about what might have been.

But suddenly, Peter’s contemplation was interrupted by a voice. A young servant girl, recognizing Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, pointed to him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67 ESV). His cover was blown. And in a state of fear, Peter responded, “I neither know nor understand what you mean” (Mark 14:68 ESV). He pleaded ignorance. In essence, he claimed not to know what she was talking about. Hoping to avoid any further interaction with the girl, Peter made his way to the exit, and as soon as he did, the rooster crowed for the first time.

But the girl, more convinced than ever that Peter was a disciple of Jesus persisted with her claim.

“This man is one of them.” – Mark 14:69 ESV

And you can almost feel the growing sense of panic taking over Peter. He feels trapped. The walls were closing in. And Matthew records that Peter not only denied the girl’s words, but he swore an oath, saying, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72 ESV). And then the rest of the crowd began to join in the chorus of accusations, shouting, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean” (Mark 14:70 ESV). Suddenly, all eyes were focused on him. And, under normal circumstances, Peter would have enjoyed being the center of attention. But not on this night. So, “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak’” (Mark 14:71 ESV). And the rooster crowed a second and final time.

That naturally occurring sound must have pierced Peter’s ears like an air-raid siren, providing a jarring and unwelcome reminder of what Jesus has said earlier.

“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

Totally unaware of the significance of his words, Peter had denied Jesus three separate times and, in so doing, had unwittingly fulfilled the Lord’s prediction. And as he considered the weight of his actions, Peter “broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72 ESV). He was devastated. This man, who took such pride in his faithfulness and who had guaranteed his steadfastness to the end, had caved under pressure. In the garden, he had slept while Jesus grieved and prayed. In the courtyard, he had lied while Jesus was tried and condemned.

From this point forward, Peter disappears from the scene, and he will not reappear until Jesus has resurrected from the dead. With his actions in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter became the representative for all the disciples. This man, who at one point had boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had just denied even knowing Him. But other than John, Peter had been the only one of the disciples who even bothered to show up that night at the high priest’s house. They had all abandoned Jesus, leaving Him to suffer the pain and agony of the cross alone. Each of them would go into hiding. And it seems that only John would be brave enough to make a personal appearance at the crucifixion of Jesus.

But these men were not failures. They were simply sinners in need of a Savior. And Jesus was preparing to offer His life as their atoning sacrifice so that they might receive the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. He would die so that they might live. He would remain faithful to His mission despite their unfaithfulness. He would keep His commitment to His Father’s will so that they might receive power from on high. Peter walked away, defeated and discouraged. He had lost the battle with fear. But Jesus was about to win the victory over sin and death and restore hope to all who, like Peter, find themselves wallowing in hopelessness and despair.

Peter himself would later write these powerfully encouraging words:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Peter 2:13 NLT

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Like a Lamb to the Slaughter

53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. Mark 14:53-65 ESV

While the sheep scattered, the Good Shepherd was “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 NLT). Bound and surrounded by armed guards, Jesus was led to the residence of the high priest. We know from John’s account that Jesus was first brought before Annas, the former high priest of Israel, who was also the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the current high priest. Eventually, Jesus found Himself facing the entire Sanhedrin, the religious high council of the Jews. They were the ones who had made the bargain with Judas, paying him 30 pieces of silver to lead them to Jesus under the cover of darkness. Because Judas was one of Jesus’ disciples, he was intimately familiar with his Master’s patterns of behavior and knew that Jesus planned to be in the garden that night. By arresting Jesus in the middle of the night, the Sanhedrin avoided a possible confrontation with the crowds that usually surrounded Jesus. These men knew that Jesus was highly popular and had seen the raucous reception He had received just a few days earlier when He had arrived in their city. So, with the help of Judas, they were able to bring in this dangerous heretic without incident.

But Jesus was not entirely alone that evening. While the rest of the disciples had fled into the darkness, John and Peter had chosen to hide in the shadows, following the mob as they led Jesus to the residence of the high priest. In his gospel account, John reveals that he managed to get access into the courtyard for Peter and himself. And while Jesus was taken before the council, these two men stood just outside the door, warming themselves by a fire. And as will become evident, there would be two trials taking place that night. One involved the interrogation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin. The other would have Peter facing the probing questions of his companions in the courtyard.

Mark makes it clear that the high priest and his fellow council members had only one motive: To put Jesus to death. This was an inquisition and not a trial. Uninterested in discovering the truth, these men were seeking evidence to use against Jesus so they could demand His execution by the Romans authorities. It was against Roman law for the Jews to practice capital punishment. So, if they were going to have any hope of eliminating Jesus, they would have to come up with accusations that would warrant the death penalty. But, as Mark reveals, they were not having much luck.

Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. – Mark 14:55 ESV

They had prearranged to have witnesses present who could testify against Jesus, but they were having difficulty finding two witnesses with corroborating testimonies. It’s likely that these witnesses had been paid for their services, but their information was proving to be useless because, according to Jewish law, the Sanhedrin would need at least two witnesses whose testimonies aligned, before they could legally charge Jesus with a crime worthy of death.

On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. – Deuteronomy 17:6 ESV

But because only one witness could testify at a time, these men kept contradicting one another’s stories.

For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. – Mark 14;56 ESV

There were some who told similarly worded stories concerning Jesus’ statement about the destruction of the temple. Evidently, they had overheard what Jesus had said to His disciples a few years earlier when He had come to Jerusalem for another Passover. After having cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and vendors selling their goods in the temple courtyard, Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV). And the crowd, having taken His words literally, responded, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 ESV). But John revealed that Jesus was “speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). 

Yet the rumor had spread that Jesus had claimed that He was going to destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days. And that is exactly what some of these “expert witnesses” shared.

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” – Mark 14:58 ESV

But even their versions of what Jesus had said proved to be inconsistent and contradictory. And while all of this was going on, Jesus stood before the high priest in absolute silence.

he remained silent and made no answer. – Mark 14:61 ESV

This was in keeping with the prophecy of Isaiah.

…like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus had no interest in defending Himself. He was not hoping for an acquittal. The only thing on His mind was the fulfillment of His Father’s will. So, in anger and desperation, the high priest accosted Jesus, asking, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” (Mark 14:60 ESV). He couldn’t understand why Jesus said nothing to defend Himself. Most men would have been pleading for their lives. But to Caiaphas, the calm and composed demeanor of Jesus was disconcerting and frustrating. This man seemed completely oblivious to the danger He faced.

Then finally, the high priest cut to the chase, demanding that Jesus publicly declare Himself to be the Son of God.

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” – Mark 14:61 ESV

Each of the gospel authors has a slightly different version of this question. Matthew reports that Caiaphas said, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). Luke records the encounter this way: “If you are the Christ, tell us” (Luke 22:67 ESV). But the bottom line was that Caiaphas wanted him to commit blasphemy by declaring Himself to be the Son of God. If Jesus would just make that admission out loud and before witnesses, they would have all the evidence they needed. And Jesus did not disappoint him.

“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62 ESV

That was all Caiaphas needed to hear. Jesus had just claimed to be a co-equal with God Almighty. And as a demonstration of his disgust and outrage with Jesus’ words, the high priest tore his own garments. Then he pronounced, “What further witnesses do we need?” (Mark 14:63 ESV).

Interestingly enough, in his pompous display of feigned outrage, the high priest had violated the law of God. He had been so excited about the prospect of finding Jesus guilty, that he failed to realize that he, too, had just committed a crime. The Mosaic law strictly forbade the high priest from tearing his clothes.

“The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose nor tear his clothes. – Leviticus 21:10 ESV

But unaware of his own guilt, the high priest declared that Jesus was a blasphemer and worthy of death. And Mark records that the members of the Sanhedrin “all condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:64 ESV). With His public confession of His deity, Jesus sealed His own death warrant. His admission of His identity as the Son of God would be the cause of His death at the hands of men. And the harsh and hateful reaction of these so-called religious leaders speaks volumes.

And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. – Mark 14:65 ESV

They dared to treat the Son of God with contempt and derision. They spat in the face of the God of the universe, the very one who had created them. They mocked their maker. They lashed out in hatred, striking the face of the one who had given them life. And little did they realize that their demand for Jesus to prophesy was all in fulfillment of the prophecies of God. As Jesus stood silently suffering their abuse and disrespect, He was living out the prophecy recorded by Isaiah hundreds of years earlier.

He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded. – Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Naked and Afraid

43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled.

51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. Mark 14:43-52 ESV

While Jesus prayed and His disciples slept, Judas had been busy making a deal with the Sanhedrin, agreeing to sell Jesus out in return for 30 pieces of silver.  And now, money in hand, and with an armed mob accompanying him, Judas showed up in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark describes him as “one of the twelve,” emphasizing the shocking nature of His betrayal. He had been a faithful follower of Jesus for more than 3-1/2 years. But now, this hand-picked disciple of Jesus had decided to reject his calling and cash in on his close relationship with his former teacher and friend.

It seems that Judas had always been in it for himself. His fellow disciple, John, describes him as nothing more than a thief. Just a few days earlier, when Mary had anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oil, Judas had expressed his disfavor at this extravagant display of gratitude. He suggested that the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But John pointed out that Judas was driven by greed, not economy.

Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself. – John 12:6 NLT

Judas was an opportunist. He was always looking for a way to profit from his relationship with Jesus. And when Jesus failed to manifest Himself as the Messiah and King they had hoped Him to be, Judas had decided to make the most of a disappointing situation by offering to turn Jesus into the Jewish religious authorities. But little did Judas know that his actions were preordained by God. Peter, another one of his former companions, would later describe the actions of Judas as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. On the same day that Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter would address his fellow disciples, saying, Brothers…the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus. This was predicted long ago by the Holy Spirit, speaking through King David. Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us” (Acts 1:16-17 ESV).

Peter was referring to Psalm 41 in which King David, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, predicted the betrayal of Jesus by one of His closest associates.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. – Psalm 41:9 ESV

That very night in the upper room, Jesus had shared the Passover meal with Judas and had even washed his feet. He had treated with the same love and respect as He had the other disciples, even though He knew what Judas was going to do.

And in return for Jesus’ kindness, Judas had arranged to betray Jesus with a kiss. This outward display of affection would be nothing more than a prearranged sign between Judas and guards tasked with arresting Jesus.

“The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard. – Mark 14:44 ESV

Even his act of betrayal was a display of pretense. By kissing Jesus, Judas was disguising his real intentions from his fellow disciples. Rather than simply pointing to Jesus and shouting, “He’s the one!,” Judas cleverly chose to cover up his defection with a display of affection. To the other disciples, he would come across like a latecomer to the party. His kiss would look more like an apology than an act of betrayal.

But as soon as Judas placed his kiss on Jesus, the guards went into action. They immediately seized Jesus and this display of aggression prompted the ever-impulsive Peter to act as a one-man rescue team.

Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. – John 18:10 ESV

It should be noted that Peter’s aggressive action was aimed at an unarmed servant, not one of the guards who were most likely carrying weapons. Perhaps Peter was attempting to provide proof that he meant what he had said earlier: “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:31 ESV). But Peter’s display of courage was unnecessary because Jesus was not in need of protection or rescue. He was doing the will of His Heavenly Father and this entire scene had been preordained before the foundations of the world. 

Everything was happening according to plan. And Jesus confronted the guards who had come to the garden in a display of force.

“Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” – Mark 15:48-49 ESV

This moment was divinely ordained. There had been plenty of opportunities along the way for the Jewish religious leaders to arrange for the arrest of Jesus, and they had tried. But they had failed because His hour had not yet come. It had been impossible for them to do anything until the Father deemed the timing to be right. They had tried to stone Jesus and been unable to do so. They had attempted to arrest Him but He had simply walked away. But now, the time had come and there was no need for swords or spears. Jesus was going to go willingly because He was walking in step with His Father’s will. And as the guards prepared to lead Jesus away, the disciples all fled away. They did exactly what Jesus had warned they would do.

“You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” – Mark 14:27 ESV

And Mark describes another unnamed individual who fled from the scene.

And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. – Mark 14:51-52 ESV

We have no idea who this young man was or why he had come to the garden dressed in nothing but a linen cloth. But when he was seized by the guards, he was so anxious to escape that he left his captors clinging to the cloth as he ran from the scene stark naked. This image of this completely exposed man running into the darkness of night seems a fitting way to portray the actions of the disciples. Every one of them, fearing for their lives, left behind their dignity and honor as they escaped into the night. They had pledged to stay by Jesus’ side, but their actions exposed their true nature. They were fearful and their panicked flight into the night revealed the naked truth about their faithlessness.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To God Be the Glory

27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:27-33 ESV

For the disciples, it probably didn’t take long before the image of the withered fig tree was replaced with the thought of being able to wield power that could cast mountains into the sea. These men had a habit of hearing only what they wanted to hear when Jesus spoke. The true meanings behind most of His lessons tended to escape them. And this one had been no different. When they had heard Jesus say, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NLT), they were probably thrilled. The very thought of having their every wish fulfilled, only by asking God, would have been a dream come true. And it’s fair to assume that the initial ideas that filled their heads were not what Jesus had in mind.

So, as they left the withered tree behind and continued their trip into the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were probably deep in thought about all the incredible implications behind what Jesus had just told them. But soon, they found themselves back in the temple courtyard, standing in the very place where Jesus had staged a one-man riot the day before. Less than 24-hours earlier, Jesus had ransacked the booths of the vendors selling overpriced sacrificial animals. He had overturned the tables of the moneychangers who were charging high fees to the thousands of foreign pilgrims who needed temple currency to purchase their sacrificial offerings. Driven by righteous indignation and motivated by zeal for the holiness of His Father’s house, Jesus had turned the carnival-like atmosphere of the temple courtyard into chaos and confusion.

Now, He had returned, and the first people to greet Him were “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (Mark 11:27 ESV). These were the representatives of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews. This august body was comprised of some of the most wealthy and influential men in the city of Jerusalem. They also happened to be members of the primary religious sects within Judaism: The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. Some were experts in the Mosaic Law. And all were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were powerful men who wielded great authority and saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. And His little escapade the day before had been a public attack on the entire system of greed and graft for which they were responsible.

So, when they saw Jesus, they immediately confronted Him, demanding to know the reasons for His unacceptable and costly actions the day before.

“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” – Mark 11:28 ESV

By this time, the damage Jesus had done the previous afternoon had been repaired, and things had returned to normal. These men were probably there to protect their investments and to ensure that there would be no repeat performance of the previous day’s disruptive and costly episode.

Their question to Jesus revolved around authority. In essence, they were asking Jesus to explain why He thought He had the right to do what He did. And they seem to fear that He might try to do it again. The actions of Jesus had been a direct assault on their authority as the religious leaders of Israel. In their minds, Jesus had invaded their territory and begun a war on their way of life. And as the supreme rulers over the nation, they saw His actions as nothing less than insurrection. He was attacking their right to rule, and they wanted to know what possessed Him to do such a thing.

Jesus could have answered their question by declaring Himself to be the Son of God. He could have told them that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was “the anointed one” (Hebrew – mashiyach). But He knew they would refuse to accept those answers. In their minds, they had already determined that Jesus had no authority. He was a loose cannon, operating on His own initiative and in direct opposition to their authority. And nothing Jesus could say would change their minds.

So, Jesus made them a proposition. He offered to answer their question, but only if they could answer one He had for them.

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” – Mark 11:30 ESV

Jesus subtly changes the focus from Himself to John the Baptist. But notice that He kept the emphasis of His question on the topic of authority. By shifting their attention to John the Baptist, Jesus was forcing them to consider the true source of all authority.

John had burst onto the scene more than 33 years earlier. This strangely dressed man had suddenly shown up in the Judean wilderness, preaching a message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and calling the people of Israel to repentance. And a large part of his ministry involved the baptism of all who were willing to repent and confess their sins.

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. – Matthew 3:5-6 NLT

John had attracted large crowds of people, who believed him to be a prophet of God. Even Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet-king of Israel, had understood John’s reputation among the people.

Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:5 NLT

Herod ultimately put John to death, but even this did nothing to diminish John’s standing among the people. So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders to state the source of John’s authority to baptize, He knew they would refuse to answer. No matter what they said, they would find themselves in a no-win situation. These men had no love affair with John. After all, while he had been alive, he had treated them with disrespect and disdain. At one point, he had publicly humiliated them, calling them a “brood of snakes” and exposing them as spiritual frauds.

“Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8-10 NLT

But if they gave the answer they wanted to give and said that John was operating on his own initiative, they faced the ire of the people. On the other hand, if they tried to placate the people by admitting that John’s authority was from heaven, it would reveal that their opposition to John had really been aimed at God.

After weighing all their options, the religious leaders decided that an admission of ignorance was the safest route to take. But when they failed to answer Jesus’ question, He refused to answer theirs. Their silence condemned them.

John had been a prophet sent by God. Everything he said and did was on behalf of God. His entire mission had been to herald the coming of the Messiah.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 ESV

And yet, the religious leaders of Israel had rejected his mission and message. When John had announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had refused to believe it. They attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. They condemned Him for His association with sinners. They accused Him of being a drunk. They spread rumors that He was illegitimate. They declared Him to be guilty of blasphemy for repeatedly claiming to be the Son of God. And this charge had led them to try and stone Him to death.

These men refused to accept Jesus because they could not bring themselves to believe that His power and authority were from God. While they were unable to explain how Jesus did all the things He did, they refused to even consider that He might actually be the Messiah. To do so would require that they relinquish their own authority, and their over-inflated egos wouldn’t allow them to do that.

Since they were unwilling to answer His question, Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mark 11:33 ESV). He owed them no explanation. He had provided them with ample evidence that He was who He claimed to be. His miracles had spoken for themselves. And yet, time and time again, these stubbornly self-righteous men had refused to recognize and acknowledge the God-given authority of Jesus. And one of the greatest assessments of the sheer stupidity of their spiritual blindness came from the lips of a man who had been the undeserving recipient of Jesus’ divine authority.

“He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” – John 9:30-33 NLT

Now, back to the lesson of the withered fig tree. When the disciples had witnessed the remarkable power of Jesus to condemn the tree to death, they had been amazed. And when He had told them, “you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen” (Mark 11:23 NLT), they had been thrilled. He was offering them access to the same kind of authority He had. All they had to do was ask, and anything was possible. But there had been a caveat. Jesus had told them to “have faith in God” (Mark 11:22 ESV). This was not about their authority; it was about God’s. All that John had accomplished had been by God’s authority and for God’s glory. The same was true of Jesus. And the same was to be true of His disciples. The availability of God’s authority would be so they might accomplish God’s will and display His glory. The scribes and Pharisees were in it for their own glory. And Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand that faith in God was the key to bringing God glory, rather than self.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Risky Business

23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:13-30 ESV

“He’s an amazing miracle worker.”

“He’s crazy!”

“He’s demon-possessed.”

The opinions about Jesus were all over the proverbial map. Some people loved Him, while others, like the Pharisees, harbored an intense and intensifying hatred for Him. But regardless of the diversity of opinions about Him, everyone would have agreed that this man from Nazareth was impossible to ignore. They couldn’t explain Him but neither could they dismiss Him.

And Mark indicates that a group of scribes had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee just to investigate this rural Rabbi was causing such a stir. It is likely that these men had been sent by the high priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and given the responsibility to find legal evidence to use against Jesus. As experts in the Mosaic law, as well as the oral and traditional regulations of the Jews, these men would have been well-qualified for their task.

Yet, despite their knowledge of the law, their initial assessment of Jesus was that He was possessed by a demon and under the control of Satan.

“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” – Mark 3:22 ESV

They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus did supernatural wonders and signs. It was obvious that He had powers and abilities that were not of this world. But rather than admit that Jesus was the Son of God, they accused Him of being in league with Satan.

By declaring that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul,” they were hoping to link Jesus to the demonic realm. The Greek name “Beelzebul” means “lord of the house or dwelling,” and it was used to refer to Satan, who was lord over the dwelling place of evil spirits. This accusation would have been well-understood by all those who heard it, and it would have shocked and surprised them.

Matthew and Luke provide additional context for this scene. The pronouncement by the scribes didn’t come out of the blue but was based on their assessment of a miracle Jesus had just performed.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” – Matthew 12:22-23 ESV

The people were so impressed by what Jesus had done that they questioned whether Jesus might be the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David, and the heir to his throne. But Matthew records the quick and calculated rebuttal of the religious leaders.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

They were hoping to dispel any thoughts that this man, Jesus, had been sent by God. By linking His activities to Satan, they were attempting to tarnish His reputation and turn the people against Him.

Rather than wasting their time gathering forensic evidence providing that Jesus had violated their written and oral laws, they simply accused Him of being under the influence of Satan. In doing so, they put their argument against Jesus in terms the common people could understand. The scribes and Pharisees had little respect for the average Jew because they viewed them as being ignorant of the law. John records a very blunt assessment made by these very same religious leaders of their own people.

“…this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” – John 7:49 NLT

But if there was one thing these uneducated and superstitious people could understand, it was the difference between good and evil. By associating Jesus with Satan, the scribes explained His power and, at the same time, maligned His character.

Yet rather than responding in anger, Jesus simply answered their accusation with a parable. He provided a well-reasoned response to their assertion that quickly exposed its absurdity and their own lack of judgment.

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive.”  – Mark 3:23-26 NLT

Through the use of simple reasoning, Jesus dismantled the very foundation of their argument. And He did so in terms the people could understand. You can almost see them looking at one another as Jesus spoke, nodding their heads in approval. The things He was saying made sense to them.

But Jesus was not done. He continued to point out the flawed logic behind their accusation.

“Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” – Mark 3:27 NLT

Why would Satan cast out one of his own demons? That would be counter-productive. And how could anyone cast out a demon unless he possessed a power greater than that of the demon?

Whether the religious leaders realized it or not, Jesus was taking them to school. He was providing them with a lesson on divine power and authority. Jesus had subtly moved the point of emphasis from casting out demons to the plundering of the home of “a strong man.”  It would seem that Jesus has shifted His focus to the religious leaders and the powerful hold they had over the nation of Israel. It explains what happened when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw how the priests of God had transformed His Father’s house into a carnival-like atmosphere.

He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” – John 2:14-16 NLT

Jesus had come to do the will of His Father, and He was operating under the power of the Holy Spirit. He had God-given authority and Spirit-enabled power to do what He did. But when these pride-filled men accused Jesus of operating under the influence and power of Satan, they had crossed the line. And Jesus clearly warned them that they were walking on thin ice.

“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” – Mark 3:28-29 NLT

Their flippant and poorly-reasoned accusation against Jesus had been a dangerous mistake. Whether they realized it or not, He was the Son of God, and they had just accused Him of fraternizing with the enemy. They had also attributed the work of the Spirit of God to the prince of this world. And in doing so, they had refused to accept the will of God. In essence, they had offended all three members of the Holy Trinity. And Jesus calls it exactly what it is: blasphemy.

And while blasphemy was normally a forgivable sin, in this case, Jesus was describing a condition in which men willingly and repeatedly reject the will of God, the claims of His Son, and the power of His Spirit. These men had been given ample evidence of who Jesus was. In a sense, the entire Godhead had provided testimony that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The Son of God. But these men had refused to believe. And it would be their stubborn disbelief that would prove to be the unpardonable sin.

Blasphemy is nothing more than speaking of God in terms that are disrespectful and derogatory. It is to dismiss the word of God and to reject the will of God. In denying Jesus as the Son of God, the religious leaders were snubbing their noses at God Almighty. They were rejecting the truth as found in His Word. And by attributing the power of the Spirit of God to Satan, they were robbing God of glory.

Blasphemy is a sin, and all sin is forgivable by God. But the one who repeatedly rejects the testimony of God regarding His Son runs the risk of committing the unpardonable and unforgivable sin. The apostle John put it in rather stark but understandable terms:

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
 – John 3:18 NLT

The religious leaders stood condemned because they refused to believe the testimony of God concerning His Son. Not only that, they had dismissed the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power displayed through the life of the Son, falsely attributing it to the enemy.

They had accused Jesus of being possessed of a demon. But there are those who accuse Jesus of being nothing more than a man. Others claim He was a moral teacher who had the ability to perform miracles. But they deny that He was the Son of God. Some deny that He ever existed at all. And over the centuries, there have been those who have denied His virgin birth, His sinless life, His death and resurrection, and His atoning work on behalf of man. And in doing so, they have committed blasphemy. And all those who persist in rejecting the Son of God as the Savior sent by God, will be “guilty of an eternal sin.”

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It Is Finished!

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:28-37 ESV

Just as he did with his recounting of Jesus’ trials, John presents a highly truncated version of Jesus’ crucifixion. In some sense, John portrays the death of Jesus as the work of men. The Sanhedrin had plotted and planned for it to happen, and the Roman governor had given his official approval, commanding his troops to carry out the execution of Jesus. John has portrayed Jesus as the King of the Jews and purposefully juxtaposed Him with two of the most powerful men in Israel at the time: The chief priest and the Roman prefect. These two men played significant roles in the death of Jesus, ensuring that His crucifixion was carried out. And John’s abbreviated treatment of the death of Jesus may simply be His way of diminishing or downplaying the power of men over the Son of God.

During his interrogation of Jesus, Pilate had arrogantly proclaimed, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10 ESV). Pilate was backed by the full power and authority of the Roman government. He had been appointed by Caesar and had thousands of well-trained and heavily armed Romans legionnaires at his disposal. He could issue a command and it would be carried out. But Jesus, unphased by Pilate’s boastful declaration, had calmly responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11 ESV).

In His trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus had been confronted by Caiaphas, the high priest, who had demanded that Jesus publicly state His claim to be the Messiah.

“I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” – Matthew 26:63 NLT

Caiaphas was looking for a confession from Jesus, not some kind of confirmation. He harbored no suspicions that Jesus might truly be the Messiah. He was simply wanting Jesus to condemn Himself by proclaiming His claim to be the Son of God – in public and in front of witnesses. This powerful and influential leader of Israel’s religious elite believed that he held the fate of Jesus in his hands. But Jesus had responded by stating, “…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).

Like Pilate, Caiaphas had no power over Jesus. And for John, the crucifixion seemed to represent man’s vain attempt to thwart the plans of God. Their treatment of Jesus had been cruel and unjust. They were putting to death an innocent man. But little did they know that they were actually fulfilling the will of God and the desires of Jesus. They were not the ones in control. While they believed they were taking the life of Jesus, He had made it clear that no one had that kind of authority over Him.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

The death of Jesus was the will of God. It was being carried out by men, utilizing a man-made instrument of death, but it was all according to the sovereign and providential plan of God and the full consent of the Son of God. So, John seems to fast-forward through the gruesome details surrounding the crucifixion, focusing only on a few carefully chosen scenes. He is more interested in what happens next.

After recording how Jesus had personally commissioned him to care for His mother, John provides an interesting first-person impression of what he saw. He describes Jesus as “knowing that all was now finished” (John 19:28 ESV). Somehow, John ascertains that Jesus was reaching not only the end of His life but also the completion of His mission. And he reports hearing Jesus say: “I thirst” (John 19:28 ESV).

The one who had stated, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14 ESV), was declaring His own thirst. He was nearing the completion of His earthly ministry, having suffered greatly at the hands of sinful men, and He found Himself suffering from intense spiritual thirst. John indicates that the words of Jesus were in fulfillment of Scripture. It is likely that he is referring to two passages found in the Psalms that seem to prophesy this very moment.

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death. – Psalm 22: 14-15 ESV

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
    and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. – Psalm 69:19-21 ESV

But Jesus’ expression of thirst has even great implications because they tie back into His earlier declaration: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Jesus was about to complete the work of His Father, and that work had been grueling, painful, and exhausting. It had left Him physically and spiritually depleted. Jesus had told James and John that they would not be able to drink from the cup that He would be forced to drink (Mark 10:38). This cup represented the wrath of God (Jeremiah 25:15-16). In His crucifixion, Jesus was taking on Himself the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of mankind. And, as He had told Peter, “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV).

Doing the work of His Father had left Jesus thirsting after righteousness. He was bearing the sins of mankind and, in doing so, feeling the displeasure of His Father for the first time in His life. And He longed to be restored to fellowship. Isaiah describes the extreme nature of His sacrifice.

because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:12 ESV

It is impossible for us to comprehend the burden that Jesus bore on our behalf. When Isaiah states that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV), we have a difficult time understanding the gravity and intensity of that weight.

And in response to Jesus’ words, He was given a sponge dipped in sour wine. The one who had turned ordinary water into extraordinary wine was given sour wine to slake His spiritual thirst. He who had poured out His blood as a drink offering to satisfy the just demands of a holy God was given spoiled wine to satisfy His need for refreshment.

And then, John records the last words Jesus would utter from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV). With His final breath, Jesus proclaimed the successful completion of His God-ordained mission. He had done what He had come to do. Now, the rest was in the hands of His Heavenly Father.

In order to expedite death, the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the three men, making it impossible for them to push themselves up in order to breathe. But Jesus was spared this indignity because He was already dead. Yet, as a precaution, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ body with a spear. Even in death, Jesus was subjected to indignity and disrespect. And John declares that all that he has written is true because he saw it with his own eye.

This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe. – John 19:35 NLT

John reveals the reason why he chose to report the things he did. The facts that the legs of Jesus remained unbroken and that His side was pierced are crucial to John. For him, they provide further proof of Jesus identity as the Son of God. He sees these two details as evidence of the deity of Jesus because they fulfill Old Testament prophecy. John seems to have three primary passages in mind: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; and Psalm 34:20. The first two deal with the divine prohibition against breaking the bones of the Passover lambs. In His death, Jesus performed the role of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Paul ties Jesus directly to the Passover lamb, stating, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). Psalm 34:20 describes how God protects the truly righteous man, preventing anyone from breaking his bones.

Even in His death, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies of Scripture, providing further evidence that He truly was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And for John, the proofs for Jesus’ identity are far from over.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus, King of the Jews

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:17-27 ESV

John presents the trials of Jesus in an abbreviated form, choosing to leave out many of the details provided in the Synoptic gospels. His record of these events is rather short and to the point, but the one thing he clearly intended to emphasize was the kingship of Jesus. The very first question Pilate asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33 ESV).

From Matthew’s account of this scene, it appears that the Jewish leaders had brought a series of charges against Jesus, which most likely included such things as sedition, insurrection, and an accusation that Jesus had claimed to be the King of the Jews. When Jesus had refused to answer Pilate’s question, the governor had responded with a second question.

“Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” – Matthew 27:13 ESV

Unknowingly, the Jewish religious leaders were speaking prophetically. In their attempt to convince the Roman government to put Jesus to death, they had concocted the story that Jesus was a dangerous radical who was fomenting revolution and claiming to be the rightful King of Israel. But as the events unfold, it will become increasingly clear that they did not believe what they were saying about Jesus. And yet, John will use their words against them. While they saw their mention of Jesus’ kingly aspirations as a way to get Him killed, John viewed it as the focal point of the entire narrative.

The abusive and demeaning treatment of Jesus by the Roman soldiers was intended to mock and humiliate Him.

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. – John 19:2-3 ESV

But their words, while spoken with mocking sarcasm and disdain, were actually true. They were unwittingly declaring the identity of Jesus. These unbelieving and hard-hearted Romans soldiers had become unwilling and unknowing ambassadors for God. They were making known the truth regarding the Son of God.

This brings to mind an earlier encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees that took place immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Luke records that as Jesus made His way into the city, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). But the Pharisees had accosted Jesus, demanding that He rebuke these people for their preposterous claims. But Jesus had simply responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV).

The Greek word for “stones” is lithos, and it refers to a small rock or pebble. It is the same word John the Baptist used when speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” – Matthew 3:9 NLT

John the Baptist had declared that God could create children out of inanimate, unthinking rocks. And Jesus had claimed that, should the Jews stopped declaring His Kingship, the common, everyday stones would pick up the cry.

So, when these unbelieving Gentile soldiers shouted, “Hail, King of the Jews!,” they were fulfilling Jesus’ prediction. The Jewish crowds had long disappeared and their voices had grown silent. The streets of Jerusalem were dark and empty, but the sound of voices declaring the Kingship of Jesus still echoed through the night.

When Pilate presented Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders, he had sarcastically declared, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14 ESV). To which they had replied, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” (John 19:15 ESV). And when Pilate mockingly asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?,” the chief priest of the Jews had angrily declared, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15 ESV).

Pilate mocked Jesus for claiming to be the King of the Jews. But the high priest and his companions, who because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, should have recognized Jesus for who He claimed to be, chose to reject Him instead. And they would not be content until this would-be-king was put to death. So Pilate, having decided to give into their demands, handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Once again, John provides an abbreviated account of the crucifixion. He leaves out many of the details contained in the other three gospels. But he continues to focus His attention on the kingship of Jesus. The scene shifts to a hillside outside the city walls, a location known as Golgotha, which meant “The Place of the Skull.” It was evidently a common site used by the Romans for crucifixions and that may have led to its grim-sounding name. While the other gospel writers spend a great deal of time describing the details of Jesus agonizing transition from Pilate’s residence to the place of His crucifixion, John chose to concentrate his attention on one particular and often overlooked aspect of Jesus’ death.

It was a common practice for the Romans to place a sign above the head of the one being crucified describing the nature of the crime they had committed. In this case, Pilate personally dictated what was to be inscribed on the placard that was placed above the head of Jesus.

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” – John 19:19 ESV

There is little doubt that Pilate meant this as mockery of Jesus but also as a subtleslight to the Jewish religious leaders. He knew that it would infuriate them and he was not disappointed. Pilate had ordered that the inscription be written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, insuring that the Jewish pilgrims, who had come from all over the world for the Passover celebration, would be able to read what was written.

Caiaphas, the high priest, accompanied by Annas, his father-in-law, attempted to convince Pilate to make a slight, but significant edit to the wording on the sign.

So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” – John 19:21 ESV

But Pilate refused. So, the sign that hung above the head of Jesus, declaring the nature of His crime and the reason for His death, read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The Rabbi from Nazareth was being put to death for being exactly who He claimed to be. He was killed for being the King of kings and Lord of lords.

There is a sense in which this inscription was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder to the Jews of what happens when anyone attempt to stand opposed to the rule and reign of Caesar. The sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, wearing a crown of thorns, would have been a very gruesome, yet effective means of deterring any future would-be kings.

And as the King of kings hung dying on the cross, a handful of “stones” gambled over his garments. These hardened and discompassionate Roman soldiers were attempting to profit from Jesus’ death, and little did they know that their callous actions were in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Hundreds of years earlier, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the great King David had penned these prophetic words:

For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots. – Psalm 22:16-18 ESV

And as the soldiers gambled over what they believed to be the sparse remains of Jesus’ inheritance, another group of individuals looked on in horror and heartache.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. – John 19:25 NLT

While the soldiers were hoping to gain some small financial advantage from the death of Jesus, these women were forced to face the loss of all their hopes and dreams. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, this was not what she had been expecting. At no time over the last 33 years had Mary ever expected this outcome. As she stood watching her Son being nailed to the cross and hoisted up before the angry crowd, she must have replayed over and over again the words that Gabriel had spoken to her 33 years earlier.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And yet, here was her Son hanging on a cross rather than reigning over the house of Jacob. And to make matters worse, some of the last words she would hear her Son say simply emphasized the finality of the horrific scene she was having to endure.

“Woman, behold, your son!” – John 19:26 ESV

Jesus was letting His mother know that John would be responsible for her care from this point on. His earthly life was coming to an end. And His imminent death would also bring with it a change to His relationship with Mary. With His resurrection, Jesus would no longer be her earthly Son. He would be her King, Lord, and Savior. Everything was about to undergo a radical and revolutionary change. The insurrection the Romans feared was going to take place, but it would be nothing like what they expected. It was as Jesus had told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Behold Your King!

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 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.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 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.” 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.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Different Kind of Kingdom

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. John 18:33-40 ESV

It doesn’t take long to recognize that Pilate, the Roman governor, has no clue as to the seriousness or scope of what is taking place outside his headquarters. His early morning routine has been interrupted by a contingent of angry Jewish religious leaders who are demanding the execution of one of their own people. Pilate, whose official residence was in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea, has traveled to Jerusalem because of the Jewish Feast of Passover. This was one of the most well-attended of all the Jewish festivals, attracting pilgrims from all over the world. As a precaution, the Romans tended to increase their military presence in order to quell any trouble that might occur. So, Pilate was in town to ensure that the proceedings were peaceful and non-eventful. The last thing he would have wanted was a riot on his hands.

So, when the religious leaders showed up outside his door with a prisoner in tow, he was forced to give it his full attention. But it seems obvious that he saw the situation as nothing more than an internecine religious dispute that had nothing to do with Rome. He even demanded that they judge the man according to their own law. But the men who had dragged the beaten and disheveled Jesus to Pilate’s doorstep were not going to be satisfied by a sentence of ex-communication. They were seeking execution.

Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, Pilate entered his residence and had Jesus brought before him. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, Pilate asked Jesus a series of short but direct questions.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – vs. 33

“Am I a Jew?” – vs. 35

“What have you done?” – vs. 35

“So you are a king?” – vs. 36

“What is truth?” – vs. 38

Pilate’s line of questioning was directed at determining the identity of Jesus. He needed to know who this man was and what He had done to cause such an uproar among the religious leaders of Israel. Since the first question that Pilate posed had to do with kingship, it is apparent that the Jews had communicated Jesus’ claim to be the King of Jews.

Matthew records that during Jesus’ interrogation before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, the high priest had said to Him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT). And when Jesus had answered in the affirmative, His fate was sealed. They declared Him to be a blasphemer for having declared Himself to be equal with God. But knowing that the Roman governor would have no interest in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God, the Jews put their charges in terms that would get Pilate’s full attention. This man was claiming to be the King of the Jews.

One of the greatest concerns of the Romans was any form of insurrection or uprising. So, a Jew claiming to be the rightful King of Israel was a potential problem that had to be addressed quickly and effectively. But Pilate, more curious than concerned, asked Jesus to confirm the charge against Him.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:33 ESV

He was looking for a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. But instead, Jesus responds with a question of His own: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny His kingship. He asks Pilate whether his question is based on personal curiosity or professional protocol. Was Pilate really interested in knowing if Jesus was the King of the Jews or was he simply reiterating the charges of the Sanhedrin?

But Jesus was not really looking for a response because He already knew the answer. Pilate, as a Roman, had no interest in whether Jesus was the legitimate king of the Jews or not. In his mind, Caesar was not only the king but his boss as well. And his job was to protect Caesar’s interests in Judea. And Pilate responds to Jesus with a tone of incredulity and disdain.

“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

What Pilate failed to understand was that Jesus truly was the King of the Jews. But not only that, He Pilate’s King as well. This royal prefect was staring into the face of the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was in the company of true royalty. Yes, Jesus’ face was bloodied and bruised, His clothes were disheveled, and His hands were bound, but He was no less a King.

And Jesus affirms and clarifies the nature of His kingship by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 ESV). In a sense, Jesus assuaged any concerns Pilate might have had. Caesar had nothing to fear from Jesus or His kingdom because it was of a different kind. His kingdom was other-worldly. 

“If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

In His high priestly prayer, recorded in chapter 17, Jesus made a declarative statement concerning His disciples:

they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” – John 17:14-16 ESV

And now, He tells Pilate that if His kingdom was of this world, His followers would be mounting an insurrection to set their King free. But He alone stood before Pilate. There were no riots in the streets. There were no enraged followers pounding down the doors of Pilate’s residence demanding the release of their rightful King. And yet, Jesus was still affirming His kingship and His right to rule and reign.

But before Jesus could sit on His throne, He would have to hang on a cross. He had come to be “lifted up” but not on a royal dais wearing flowing robes and a jewel-encrusted crown. No, He would have His garments stripped from Him and a crown of thorns mockingly placed on His head. And just hours later, Pilate himself would command that a sign be placed above the head of Jesus as He hung on the cross. It would read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19 ESV).

Pilate, clueless as to what Jesus was talking about, simply responds: “So you are a king?” (John 18;37 ESV). He had no time or interest in discussing the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. All he wanted to know was if the charge against Jesus was accurate. Did Jesus consider Himself to be the King of Jews? And, once again, rather than answer Pilate directly, Jesus somewhat cryptically responds:

“You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” – John 18:37 ESV

Jesus seems to be saying that Pilate’s use of the term “king” was laden with all kinds of misconceptions and misunderstandings. He and Pilate were talking on two different levels and the governor was incapable of understanding what Jesus was saying to him.

Pilate was stuck on the earthly topic of kingship. All he wanted to know was if Jesus was a real threat to Rome’s authority in the region. Had this obscure Rabbi from Nazareth been trying to mount an insurrection and establish Himself as the King of Israel? If so, then Pilate would have to deal with this threat quickly and effectively.

But Jesus claims that He was born into the world for a different kind of purpose. He was of the lineage and line of King David and therefore, the rightful heir to the throne. But He had come into the world to “bear witness to the truth.”

In the opening chapter of his gospel, John declared, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17 ESV). Jesus came to earth in order to declare the truth regarding God’s plan of salvation. He was the embodiment of that truth. He had later declared of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

And Jesus confirms to Pilate that, while He was a King, He had not come to earth to set up an earthly Kingdom. He had come to reveal the truth about how sinful humanity could be made right with God. And this offer of redemption and restoration was available to “everyone.”

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:11-12 NLT

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 NLT

Pilate was standing face-to-face with the truth of God but didn’t realize it. So, he was left asking the question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38 ESV). The very “truth” that could set him free was standing right in front of him but all Pilate saw was a Jewish Rabbi bound with ropes and facing charges of insurrection.

So, he walked back out to Jesus’ accusers and announced, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:38-39 ESV). Hoping to diffuse the situation, Pilate offered what he believed to be a viable option. Since he could find no legally viable reason to put Jesus to death, he offered to release him as a gesture of goodwill. But he made the mistake of referring to Jesus as “the King of the Jews.” And this unintended slight infuriated the Sanhedrin, leading them to demand the release of a common criminal named Barabbas. They preferred a convicted felon over the Savior of the world. The one who had been declared guiltless would take the place of the guilty.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson