12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaicis Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
(John 19:12-16a NIV)
Previously in Chapter 19, Pilate had interrogated Jesus and found Him innocent of the nebulous charges the Jews had brought against Him. Pilate ordered Jesus flogged as punishment for whatever He had done to upset the Jews, hoping that would be sufficient to placate the Jewish leaders and Jesus could be set free. Instead of calming the Jewish crowd, the sight of Jesus, bloodied and in shock, only stirred them up, demanding His crucifixion.
In yesterday’s passage, the Jewish leaders finally brought specific charges against Jesus: “He claimed to be the son of God.” Pilate knew he must investigate these accusations as only Ceasar claimed to be a child of the gods in Roman culture.
As we begin today’s passage, John implies that Pilate is further convinced of Jesus’ blamelessness. Pilate repeatedly tries to release Jesus, whom he considers an innocent man. The Jews, in response to Pilate’s assertions of Jesus’ innocence, question Pilate’s loyalty to Ceasar with the “friend of Ceasar” threat.
When Pilate hears the Jews’ repeated threats of questioning his loyalty to Ceasar, he opts for taking care of himself and his position over protecting and defending an innocent man. In verse 13, Pilate takes decisive action in this no-win situation. Pilate brings Jesus out to the courtyard and sits down at the judge’s bench in front of the Jewish mob.
In verse 14, John notes the precise day and time that Pilate sat down to pronounce judgment on Jesus: “It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.” For the non-Jewish reader, this may seem like an insignificant point. For the Jewish reader, this Passover day and time was the hour when the sacrificial lamb was led out to be slaughtered and prepared for the Passover. The innocent lamb was inspected and found without blemish, then sacrificed for the sins of the household.
Up to this point, John recorded (and Jesus said) that His time had not yet come. Now, Jesus’ hour had finally arrived.
As Pilate took his seat at the judge’s bench to pronounce sentence on Jesus, he had anger and revenge in his heart. If the Jews could play the “allegiance to Ceasar” game, so could he. Pilate knew the Jews hated the Romans and hated having their prized city under Roman rule. Moreover, Pilate knew the Jews had no regard for him personally as well.
Pilate fired his retaliatory shot: “Here is your king!”
The Jews responded, “Crucify him!”
With the crowd whipped into a fury, Pilate fired his final and fatal shot: “Shall I crucify your king?”
The chief priests, as the official representatives for all Jewish-Roman matters, answered on behalf of all the people: “We have no king but Ceasar!”
In a heartbeat, Pilate had convinced the Jewish people to disavow their Jewish God and lay claim to Ceasar as their deity and king.
With the official matter recorded on the Roman legal books, Pilate was satisfied that he had sufficiently taken care of his question of loyalty to Rome and Ceasar as well as recording that the Jews voluntarily pledged their allegiance to Ceasar and Rome. In Pilate’s eyes, the sacrifice of one innocent Jewish man was a small price to pay for restored peace in Jerusalem and protection of his position and reputation. Pilate then handed Jesus over to be crucified.
To whom or to what do we pledge our loyalty and devotion? If Christ is not first and foremost, then whatever else comes before Him will crowd Him out and become an idol in our lives. Christ cannot share loyalty, either. If we say our loyalty is to Christ and (fill in the blank), then the other person, place, or thing is our idol, and Christ takes second place.
May we put Christ first and renounce anything or anyone that we have put before Him. The lies we believed about other things equal to or before Christ vanish like the morning mist when we let the blazing light of the Son shine in our minds, hearts, and souls.