28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
(John 18:28-40 NIV)
From yesterday’s text, we saw Jesus arrested and taken to Annas’ house while the Sanhedrin convened. In verse 24, Annas sent Jesus from his home to where the Sanhedrin had gathered. During Jesus’ trial, John records that Peter denied Jesus three times. The crowing of the rooster is Peter’s reminder of what Jesus said to Peter about denying any association with Jesus.
In today’s text, Jesus is being moved from the trial with the Sanhedrin to Pilate, the Roman governor. John omits the details of the Sanhedrin trial and focuses on Jesus’ time with Pilate.
The Jews were bristling under Roman rule. Pilate felt constant tension with the Jews. Pilate knew that if he did not keep peace in Jerusalem, that Roman leadership would hear about the problems and send someone to take his place.
The Jews bring Jesus before Pilate. The Jews won’t go into Pilate’s palace because they don’t want to become ceremonially unclean and have to miss the Passover. Pilate then has to come out to them, an interruption in his day and agenda.
When Pilate asks the Jews what charges they have against Jesus (v. 29), they respond by implying Jesus was a criminal, but offer no actual charges (v. 30). Pilate, impatient with the Jews, tells them to judge Jesus according to Jewish law (v. 31). Pilate does not want to have anything to do with Jewish law or their legal process.
The Jews respond that Roman law prohibits them from executing anyone. They have still not brought any actual charges against Jesus but have told Pilate that they want Jesus killed by crucifixion.
Pilate, impatient and wanting to get back to his agenda for the day, takes Jesus inside and questions Him. Jesus uses Pilate’s interrogations and turns them into statements of affirmation and provides a brief support for His statement.
While many sermons and talk have been made about Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”, John’s account shows Pilate impatiently using a rhetorical question as a statement, not pondering the status of the universe and the meaning of truth. Pilate is irritated at this interruption and wants to move on with his day.
Pilate goes out and addresses the Jews, letting them know that he finds no basis for charges against Jesus. Pilate even offers the Jews to give Jesus amnesty to fulfill the Jews’ custom of showing grace and mercy to someone during Passover, but the Jews insist on releasing Barabbas instead. Barabbas was a known criminal.
Jesus’ responses to Pilate are a tremendous faith lesson from today’s text. Jesus was focused not on setting up an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. So we must be focused on things above, not things here on earth.
Jesus’ example does not give us the option of disengaging from daily life. Rather, we must fully engage in the day-to-day with an eternal perspective. When we do, we show God’s truth lived out and guide others to Him.