Defiled in Heart
“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” (v. 28).- John 18:28–32
John does not record Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, telling us only that Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas and that Jesus was later taken “from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters” (John 18:24, 28). Matthew 26:57–68; 27:1–2 reports this trial in more detail, and it must have occurred after Jesus stood before Annas. In this trial, the Jewish leaders found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and declared Him deserving of death.
The problem for the Jewish leaders at this point was that they did not have the legal authority to execute Jesus. Although the Romans allowed the Jews to follow their traditions in many areas, in the vast majority of cases, only a Roman ruler could execute criminals. (The first-century Jewish historian Josephus notes that the Jewish authorities could put to death a gentile who entered the inner courts of the Jerusalem temple.) This explains why Jesus was brought to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (John 18:28–29).
Pilate was a cruel leader, and he was especially hated by the Jews for the atrocities he sometimes committed in order to keep the peace in Judea (see, for example, Luke 13:1). Normally, Pilate was not based in Jerusalem, but he resided in that city during Jewish feasts such as Passover because the large numbers of Jewish pilgrims could easily be incited to riot. Pilate disdained the Jews and their law, but he was not stupid, and he would defer to their scruples as much as possible in order to keep the populace happy. So, when the Jewish authorities did not want to enter his headquarters because they feared ritual defilement, he respected their customs and went out to meet them (John 18:28–29). Still, something of his hostility to the Jews can be seen in his interchange with the Jewish authorities (vv. 29–31). Pilate would have approved the Roman soldiers’ going to arrest Jesus in the first place, and he would have known that the Jewish leaders came to him only because they wanted Jesus dead and could not execute Him. By feigning ignorance, Pilate got the Jewish authorities to admit their impotence, thereby humiliating them.
Note the irony in the Jewish authorities’ concern for their ritual purity. They believed they could not go into Pilate’s headquarters, for contact with gentiles would defile them according to their traditions. Yet, these same authorities were not concerned with the inner defilement that led them to seek the execution of an innocent man. Clearly, their hearts were far from God.
John Calvin notes that during Jesus’ trial, the religious authorities carried ”to excess their care about smaller matters, and [neglected] what is of the highest importance.” Sinners are perpetually tempted to be concerned only with external righteousness, but we must seek purity of the heart. Let us ask the Lord to help us rely on Him so that we will be concerned with inner purity.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 16:7