Pilate Sentences Jesus to Death
“[The Jews] cried out, ‘Away with [Jesus], away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified” (vv. 15–16a).- John 19:12–16a
Had Pontius Pilate been a man of integrity with the courage to act on his convictions, he never would have sentenced Jesus to death. After all, he clearly did not believe that Jesus was guilty of either sedition against the Roman Empire or blasphemy against the God of Israel. We see evidence of this in his repeated attempts to get the Jewish religious leaders to call for him to release Jesus. Pilate stressed again and again that he found no guilt in Jesus. The Roman governor even offered the Jewish authorities a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a man with a known criminal past (John 18:28–19:11; see Luke 23:18–19).
But Pilate was not a man of integrity or of justice. He was more concerned with preserving his own position than with preserving the life of an innocent man. As we see in today’s passage, Pilate finally stopped trying to get the Jewish leaders to call for Jesus’ release when they told him that he would be no friend of Caesar if he were to free Jesus (John 19:12). This charge to Pilate was baldly political. The Jewish leaders knew Pilate feared such a charge’s making its way to Rome, for Tiberius Caesar, the emperor at the time, would be quick to remove from office anyone thought not to be on his side. Furthermore, the Jews themselves had no real concern for who was Caesar’s friend, since they hated their Roman overlords. They feigned interest in Pilate’s relationship to the emperor to force Pilate to appease them.
Pilate did what the Jewish authorities wanted him to do and finally sentenced Jesus to be crucified (v. 16a). However, he did not do so without taunting the Jews one last time. Commentators see in Pilate’s final presentation of Jesus to the Jews and his exclamations “Behold your King!” and “Shall I crucify your King?” (vv. 14–15) as the governor’s hurling one final insult at them. In effect, Pilate was reminding the Jewish leaders of their own impotence. The bloodied, seemingly powerless man standing before them, Christ Jesus, was the only king they would get. In Pilate’s mind, they could do no better regarding their political aspirations than a “ruler” destined to die. And yet, we can see the irony in this. For while Pilate thought little of Jesus and the Jewish leaders rejected Him as their king, we know that the One who stood before them was God incarnate, the true Sovereign over all, who was orchestrating events in order to bring about the salvation of the world (1:1–18; 3:16).
The crucifixion of Jesus is the supreme example that God is working in all things for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28). The crucifixion of Jesus was the most heinous evil ever done in the history of mankind, and yet God brought the greatest goods possible out of it—our salvation and the proclamation of His glory. We can therefore trust that He is working in the most awful of circumstances for our good.
Passages for Further Study