Jesus Before Pilate - John 18:28-40

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Memory Verse — Romans 6:23

The sins of Jew and Gentile met at the Cross of Jesus Christ. There He bore the sins of all men in all time, and of all nations. And not only did the sins of all meet there for judgment, but they also were manifested there in all their hideous character. The depths of the Jews' sin is shown in their ceremonial blindness and in their rejection of their King and Saviour. The Gentiles' sin is seen in the injustice of Pilate in permitting that a Man Whom he acknowledged to be innocent should be delivered to the will of the Jews and crucified. The lesson which we study today may be divided for convenience into three sections, all of them dealing with events leading up to the Cross, and all of them showing peculiarly the depths of sin, for if one would understand what sin really is, he must go to the Cross of Christ, and to the events which cluster about the Cross.


John 18:28-32

"Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early: and they themselves went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, that they might eat the passover." Years before, God had given the Jews the passover feast. It was on the occasion of their going out from the Egyptian bondage. He had told them that the death angel was to pass through the land that night and was to slay the first-born in every home. In order that His people might be protected He told them to kill a perfect lamb, and to sprinkle its blood upon the door posts and lintel of the door. [They were to roast the lamb with fire and to eat it with their loins girded and their [staves in their hands. The sprinkled blood was to be a protection for the people in the house, and the Lord promised, "When I see the blood I will pass over you" (Ex. 12:1-4). It was from this that the passover feast derived its name. The anniversary of this feast had come and the Jews were about to celebrate it. They did not enter into the Gentile judgment hall lest they should be defiled and thus (rendered unable to eat of the passover. Oh! What blindness was theirs! That passover feast which God gave them, and the sprinkled blood were only a picture pointing forward to the "Lamb of God" Which was to take away the sin of the world (Jno. 1:29). Jesus, God's Son, is the real passover lamb. The Jews rejected Jesus, and betrayed Him into the hands of the Gentiles for judgment, then when the Gentile ruler would have released Him, they clamored for His blood. They were very careful about the ceremonial passover, but blinded themselves to its meaning. They clung to the dead form of the law but would not permit it to point them to the One Who was the fulfillment of that law. Jesus spoke truly when He said of them, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (Matt. 23:23). Though very punctilious in their observance of the smaller details of the law the Jews perverted judgment In the case of Jesus, they surely showed no mercy, and they did not believe in Him. Many of today are like them. They permit dead legalism, ritualism, and formalism to take the place of a living faith in the Son of God. Jno. 1:29; I Cor. 5:7.

And what a weak accusation the Jews brought against Jesus! When Pilate asked them, "What accusation bring ye against this man?" they replied, "If he were not a malefactor we would not have delivered him up unto thee." This is the language of men who know they have no real case. It is the answer of children who when trapped by being asked why they have said a certain thing exclaim, "If it were not true we would not have said it." It is what is called in common parlance, "a bluff." The Jews had no case against Jesus and they knew it, but so implacable was their hatred for Him, and so set were they in their determination to do away with Him that they deliberately turned Him over to Pilate for judgment, and tried to persuade him that He was a criminal and that He should die. In doing this they violated their law, for it said, "Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Ex. 20:16).

Then again, the weakness of this accusation and the consciousness of the Jews that they were condemning an innocent Man is emphasized by a telling admission which they made immediately after. Pilate said to them, "Take Him and judge Him according to your law." To this the Jews responded, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" (Vs. 31). Ah! in that they gave themselves away I If Jesus were a blasphemer, as they claimed, in the mock trial before Caiaphas, they were commanded, by the law of God to stone such an one to death. But if it be objected that the Roman law would not permit them to fulfill that law and to impose a death sentence it must be answered that the representative of Roman justice had just given them authority to proceed with the judgment by their own law. Thus by both the law of God and the law of the Roman government thej' were at liberty to proceed with the stoning of Jesus, if, as they claimed. He were a blasphemer. Then, too, it may be seen that the Jews did have the power on occasion .to stone a man to death, from the fact that only a little later they stoned Stephen. No! the Jews' cry, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death," was not occasioned by the illegality of that procedure, but by their own guilty consciences. It was their admission that they found no fault in Jesus. Lev. 24:16; Acts 7:54-60.

But in doing as they did they were only fulfilling prophecy. Had they judged Jesus according to their own law and decided that He was guilty He would have died by stoning. The Scriptures had foretold for many years that He was to die upon the Cross, and Jesus Himself had definitely told His disciples that He was to be crucified. Crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment, but Roman. If Jesus v^'ere to be crucified as the prophets had foretold, and as He Himself had declared, then it must be at the hands of the Romans. In their blindness and unbelief the Jews were hastening the fulfillment of the prophecies of God's Word. However, they were not in any measure less responsible for their sin on that account. God held them accountable for their rejection of His Son. Psa. 22:16 (Note also the whole of this Psalm); Matt. 20:19.


John 18:33-37

But they were not alone in their sin in the matter. Pilate, the Gentile representative, was just as guilty as they. As the representative of Roman law he should have defended Jesus when the Jews admitted they had no case against Him. Instead he leagued himself with them in the effort to incriminate Jesus. Failing to get any evidence from the Jews on which to convict Him he tried another method. Questioning Jesus he tried twice to get Him to make a statement about His kingdom which would seem to be contrary to Roman law, and which would make Him out to be guilty of treason. And once he sought directly to get some admission of wrong-doing from the lips of Jesus. He failed in all three of his efforts, for though Jesus was the King of the Jews He realized the dastardly motives which prompted the questions, and realized the false interpretations which would be put upon His statements. Therefore, He simply turned from the questions of Pilate to speak of the truth which He came to bring. "The law was given by Moses, hut grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The truth of which Jesus spoke was particularly the truth of the grace of God. He sought to show Pilate his need in saying, "Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice." Psa. 119:110; 140:5; 142:3.

Pilate's answer to this loving attempt to win him was revelatory. He asked, "What is truth?" Yes, well might he ask that question. Truth was a stranger to that crafty old Roman governor. His very method in seeking to entrap Jesus showed that. Pilate, the unbeliever, showed that truth was far from his life and thought. But after asking that question he did not wait for the answer. He was not willing to learn of the truth which Jesus was so willing to teach him. Being, as he was, in the presence of Him in Whom is hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Pilate turned away and went out. Truth meant nothing to him. All he cared for was his own selfish pleasure and comfort. Col. 2:3; Jno. 14:6; II Thess. 2:io.

Going out he went to the Jews and said to them. "I find in Hint no fault at all." What a striking admission of the innocence of Jesus! The Jews, when asked what their accusation was, weakly replied, "If He were not a malefactor we would not have delivered Him up unto thee," and then admitted that they could find no real fault in Him by saying that it was not lawful for them to put Him to death. Pilate, the inquisitor, could find no fault in Him. Surely we need not wonder at that, for the all-seeing eye of God could find no fault in Him. When God can find no fault in a man it is useless for men to try. Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Pilate's admission of the innocence of Jesus shows how deep was his sin in giving Him over to the Jews. I Sam. 16:7; Heb. 7:26; II Cor. 5:31.

But before lie did deliver Jesus to them Pilate made them an offer which in itself was most unjust. Not only was he unjust in his seeking to incriminate a Man against Whom no accusation had been brought, but he was also unjust in giving the Jews their choice between Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was a convicted criminal. There was no doubt about his guilt. Jesus was One Who was wrongly accused, and One in Whom the Roman governor himself could find no fault. Surely such an One, an innocent Man, should be set at liberty. But Pilate gave the Jews their choice. Should he set Barabbas free, or should he free Jesus? Should the guilty go free, or should the innocent? The injustice of this proposition is apparent on the surface. Matt. 27:16-26; Mark 15:7-15.


John 18:40

The Jews chose Barabbas instead of Jesus. They preferred the guilty before the innocent. Their sin in this is typical of the sin of many others since that time. Men are constantly choosing the favor of sinful men rather than the favor of God. When it comes to a choice between sin-cursed, hell-doomed friends and the Lord Jesus Christ, men will choose the wicked friends. The knowledge that an acceptance of Jesus as Saviour will alienate wicked and unbelieving friends and relatives causes many to reject Him. But whatever the cause may be, the worst sin of which men can be guilty is to reject the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them. Prov. 1:28-29.

However there is another side to the wicked thing which was done there. Though the Jews and Pilate doubtless did not intend it so yet their preferring Barabbas to Jesus gives us a rich and blessed picture of what He was about to do for sinners. The innocent One took the place of the guilty. The Son of God took the place of the condemned criminal. So when Jesus died on the Cross He took the sinner's place. Because Jesus was to suffer Barabbas went free, and likewise the sinner may go free and enjoy eternal life because Jesus, the Son of God, took his place on the Cross. Jesus, Who was without sin, died for our sins that we might live through Him. What a wonderful picture and what marvelous grace we see here. I Pet. 3:18; I Pet. 2:24; Isa. 53:5-6.