Why Pilate Couldn’t See
John 19:1-16a, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 06/28/2020
What prevents a person from coming to Jesus? Why would a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, who hears the gospel of Jesus Christ refuse to come and bow the knee before him?
We might answer that question in a number of ways. Perhaps they have intellectual objections; can you square science and scripture? Or what about the problem of pain? Maybe they have common sense objections; look at all the wars of religion! Could Jesus really rise from the dead? Or maybe the objection is more personal. Someone in the church hurt me. Maybe someone with a leadership position leveraged their power in a way that resulted in my pain. Perhaps I’ve been judged unfairly-or fairly but unmercifully.
Of course, on the flip side, if we have our Bibles open to the Psalms or to Romans we will read things like, there is none who does good, not even one, and, everyone has turned aside, together they have become useless. Which is to say, the Bible’s answer for why some refuse to come is because of indwelling sin which makes us hate the light. We might claim an excuse on the outside, problems with the Bible, the church, or Jesus himself. But the problem is actually in the mirror. To quote a verse that we have repeatedly turned to in this gospel, And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19).
As we continue on in John’s gospel, looking at another phase of the sham trial of Jesus, we are once again dealing with our friend from last week, Pontius Pilate. And in Pilate we will see a particular sin which can blind us to the truth before our eyes: the fear of man. Pilate feared man, and missed Jesus. Let’s read the text: John 19:1-16a
Point 1: The Fear of Man is a Snare
In v1 we see Pilate continuing to preside over this mess.
As Noah pointed out last week, by this point in the narrative we are at Jesus’ second appearance before Pilate
And Pilate has already rendered a verdict: 18:38
Yet, here we find Jesus being flogged.
This is probably the first of two floggings: the Romans had three forms of flogging, with the most severe saved for a pre-crucifixion
What this means is not that Jesus lucked out: it means he was most likely flogged twice, here with a “lesser” form, that would nonetheless have left him bloodied, bruised
The most severe form, wherein long strips of leather with bits of metal and bone tied in were used by the officers, would have been saved until after v16.
We know this second beating left Jesus unable even to carry his own crossbar up the hill. It killed many, laid bare their bones, exposed their entrails.
But why is Pilate having an innocent man flogged? Because he’s terrified of the crowds
Luke 23:15-16 informs us that after Pilate got Jesus back from Herod that both he and Herod had found Jesus innocent. His solution: this beating.
Pilate knows he can’t cut Jesus free without severe backlash, but what if I beat him real good? What if he is subject to severe humiliation?
That’s what we see in v2-3, the soldiers driving the humiliation home.
They make a date palm crown, with thorns up to 12 inches long
A purple robe, in mockery of his royal claim
They exclaim, hail, King! and strike him. Other Gospel writers add here that they spit on him and gave him a reed “scepter” with they also took to beat him with, in addition to using their own hands
Pilate’s perverse thinking seems to be, he’s innocent, so if I beat him badly enough and let him be mocked thoroughly their rage will be pacified
Is this the right rule for a magistrate to follow? Is Pilate doing his job here? Romans 13:3-4, Micah 6:8
Pilate’s job in this situation is straightforward: release the innocent man-but he’s too afraid
Pilate’s fear would fall squarely into what we would call rational, wouldn’t it? He’s trying to avoid an uprising. He’s balancing his duties as arbiter of Roman justice, and also the chief legal officer over the Jewish people with a measure of responsibility to uphold their laws.
But it’s obvious to him that on no count does Jesus deserve death, v4
Pilate comes out to plead with the crowd again, this doesn’t make sense, you’re asking me to convict the innocent
In v5, Jesus comes forward. Bloodied, beaten, in mock royal robes, head pouring from his brow from the thorns having been driven into his scalp.
Pilate declares, behold the man. You can imagine this is almost a derisive turn of phrase. Behold, the man who claims to be king. Looks royal, doesn’t he? Behold, the man you claim is leading a rebellion and ought to be crucified, looks threatening, doesn’t he? Is anything beyond this really necessary?
This doesn’t get the sympathetic response Pilate seems to be seeking for, though, because in v6 the chief priests and their officers continue to cry out, Crucify Him!
Pilate’s response of, take him yourselves and crucify him, seems tinged with frustrated disgust. He knows they can’t legally execute anyone, but he doesn’t have any desire to order it, either. Why? For I find no guilt in him.
Again, what is the job of the judge when the accused is innocent? Declare him so and treat him so! But Pilate is afraid of these crowds, and it prevents him from doing what he ought to do: release Jesus.
Proverbs 29:25 says, the fear of man lays a snare. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an animal caught in a trap. It changes from animal to animal, generally by species but sometimes by individual as to how they respond. Some are complacent, some bounce around a little making a half-hearted attempt at escape, and some animals will fight furiously to escape from a trap. Pilate seems to be acting like a caged animal who thinks there must be a way out, but every door he pushes on is locked and he is beginning to resign himself to his fate. But unlike the animal, this trap was of his own making. The only thing standing between Pilate and a clear conscience is his fear of man. He’s caught in a vortex, unable to see his next step, but the only thing keeping him here is fear.
What are your fears preventing you from seeing? What clear obligations has God given you through his word or the Spirit’s work in your conscience that you are afraid to obey because you’re afraid how it will turn out or how other people will view you? There is only one real antidote to the fear of man. And Pilate almost got there.
Point 2: Close, But Not Quite
In v7 the leaders bring a specific charge (unlike 18:30): he should die because of blasphemy.
They probably hadn’t brought this forward before because they didn’t think a Roman procurator would care about a religious dispute like this. But now they’re desperate to make something stick.
It almost has the opposite effect, though, because in v8 we read that this statement intensified Pilate’s fears, and drove him to ask the question of v9, where are you from?
We hear a statement like, “he made himself [or he claimed to be] the Son of God” and we either respond like Christians, because he is! or like modern people, well, that’s just crazy.
Remember, though, that Pilate has a different worldview. He is a man of the Greco/Roman world, wherein the chief legends center on gods who often do come down either personally or through their divine or semi divine offspring. So Jesus’ divinity is, at least to some degree, a live option in his mind.
This would disturb him all the more because of what Jesus has already told him in 18:36, my kingdom is not of this world.
Pilate is further disturbed when Jesus won’t answer his question.
Is Jesus being difficult? No, Pilate has already refused to act on the information Jesus has given him-why would Jesus give more?
Pilate is not driven at this point by a searching for the truth, he’s panicking and asking frantic questions
In v10, Pilate does what all desperate people do, he starts reaching for what authority he does have-or thinks he has. I hold your life in my hands!
On the one hand, this betrays Pilate’s very conundrum. Because he is legally responsible in this situation, this fearful man cannot do what he so desperately desires: escape responsibility. It will land on him.
On the other, he doesn’t realize how little this makes sense given the fact that he is speaking to Jesus.
V11, Jesus makes a response that ought to cut Pilate down to size: you’re authority isn’t really your own
This works on two levels. First, Pilate was appointed and ruled at the pleasure of Caesar.
Caesar himself is known as, son of the deified one, having been adopted by Augustus, who after his death was considered a God by the Roman people. So there is a higher earthly authority to whom Pilate answers
But Jesus’ bigger point here is what we read earlier from Romans 13, all earthly rulers are set in place by God. None is truly independent. All will answer to God.
And here is where we find Pilate almost getting it. The first part of v12 tells us that from then on he sought to release Jesus. Why? Of course a further conviction of his innocence. But more so, I think he comes oh so close to the one cure for the fear of man: the fear of God.
Fear is not a bad thing to have when you have legitimate reason to be afraid. But our human perspective on fear is all screwy.
Pilate stands before the Lord of glory, Creator of heaven and earth, and he starts to tremble. But he ultimately decides that the people out there crying crucify are too scary and he better give in to them instead.
Proverbs 29 told us that the fear of man lays a snare, in contrast see
Proverbs 1:7, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge
Proverbs 9:10, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy one is insight
Does it make sense to fear mere humans when to do so means we will run afoul of the eternal God?
Luke 12:4-5, fear him
Pilate’s fear of Jesus being a god doesn’t end up overriding his controlling fear of man. We must see Jesus for who he truly is. Not a god. The God. The One who can cast body and soul into hell.
Pilate’s fears almost got him to where he needed to go. But it wasn’t enough. He didn’t move from superstition to belief.
We see this through the rest of our text. V12 continues with the Jews threatening to tattle to Caesar.
Were they really loyal? Hardly. But they know how to push his buttons, and he relents. He would rather be friends with Caesar than with God. He gets Luke 12 backwards.
When Pilate hears this, he brings Jesus out to the Stone Pavement, which would likely have been an elevated place where judgements were rendered. It was elevated so that the official rendering judgement could be seen and heard, as well as be safe in the case of a riotous crowd, which Pilate was obviously dealing with here.
There is a question in v14 of chronology.
As to the day, when it says day of preparation that almost certainly means preparation for the Sabbath, making the day Friday. Even though Passover proper takes place on Thursday evening (when Jesus and the disciples took it), the whole week could be referred to as such, and so Friday makes sense here.
As to the time of day, that question is more complicated. John tells us judgement is rendered at the 6th hour, and while Mark 15:25 tells us that Jesus was crucified at the 9th hour. There are a number of ways commentators try to put these two together, but here is the simplest one: John is reckoning by Roman time, thus the 6th hour is 6am. Mark is reckoning by Jewish time, thus the 3rd hour is 9am. So you have judgement at 6 and crucifixion at 9.
Pilate’s caving is complete in v14b-16a, as he says, behold your king! But when they shout, away with him, crucify him! he can muster nothing more than a feeble, are you sure, guys?
They are sure. Crucify our king? We have no king but Caesar.
So Pilate throws in the towel, and hands Jesus over.
The religious leaders hold the greatest guilt before God in this scenario, Jesus says as much in v11. They had the knowledge they needed to see Jesus for who he was, their Messiah, their king. And they rejected him. But Pilate is far from guiltless. He crucified an innocent man, and he did so because he was ultimately blinded by a fear of what doing the right thing might mean. He was afraid of men, rather than God. He was terrified of the crowd to such a degree that he failed to heed his own words: behold the man, behold your king.
Point 3: Behold, Jesus
What should Pilate have beheld?
Behold, the man
Note Jesus all through this passage, giving himself over to the scorn of men. In v1-3 he is flogged, mocked, beaten, and crowned with thorns.
1 Peter 1:22-23
When you look at Jesus, what do you see? A weakling or a conquered man? Remember John 10:18.
Jesus stands here willingly, takes the scorn and mistreatment of people, on his way to a bloody cross where he will bear the wrath of God: and he did it for you.
Behold, the man: mocked and abused. Behold, the man: silent before his accusers and entrusting himself to God. Behold, the man: willingly headed to the cross. Behold, the man: the man who died for you.
Behold, your king
Remember v11, where Jesus reminds Pilate that his authority is a gift, not his by right.
Pilate is terrified, and ultimately swayed by the crowds with the threat that Caesar might be displeased and would then remove Pilate. But Caesar’s Lord, the Lord of all the earth, the true King, King of Kings and Lord of Lords stands before Pilate, and he doesn’t see him.
This kind of king doesn’t make sense to Pilate, and let’s be honest: he doesn’t make sense to us, either.
A king coming to die means two things, both of which we find offensive.
It means we have offended God so deeply it requires blood payment. That thing you did last night, said two days ago, thought this morning: death is the penalty. Do you see your sins that way? The king does.
The other thing it means is that you can’t pay that debt, not short of eternity in hell. Which means someone else has to. You need a substitute to die, and you need an alien righteousness to be gifted to you.
These two truths, as offensive as they are, are precisely what Jesus came to testify to (18:37). That you owe God everything, yet you give him nothing. But in spite of that he has determined to set his love on you and send his Son to be your Passover Lamb, to cover you in his blood, to freely give you his own righteousness.
It’s all free. But it will cost you. It will cost you your pride and self-sufficiency. It will cost you standing in the eyes of people. Repentance is a painful process on many levels, and living for Jesus will often make you look like a fool to the world. Pilate feared man, and it blinded him to the One who deserved his fear. Don’t let that same fear blind you.
Jesus suffered shame, reproach, torture, and the wrath of God so that those who fear God would no longer have to fear God. That those who bow the knee to Christ might be welcomed to the table as God’s children. That can’t coexist with worshipping our appearance before people. We worship a Messiah who was made a bloodied spectacle before men. Behold, your King. Bow to the King, the King who died for you.