“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. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 18:28-32)
As the scene between the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Governor of Judea Pontius Pilate unfolds, Pilate accommodates the Jews by coming outside his headquarters to meet with them. This was in order to prevent the Jews from being defiled, according to their tradition, by entering a Gentile building.
Pilate is not dumb. He knows that the only reason the Jews have brought “this man” to him is because they have an accusation against Him. Pilate asks a legitimate question: “What accusation do you bring against this man?” This statement begins the Roman Civil Trial against Jesus, following the Jewish Religious Trial.
The Jews response is telltale. “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” The Jews complain that Pilate does not trust their integrity. Surely they would only bring an individual worthy of execution to the governor. Why quibble about the criminal charge.
Pilate’s response was equally informative. “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” Pilate had no interest in becoming involved in Jewish matters which did not concern him.
Dr. John Walvoord comments that, “The Jews’ reply to Pilate revealed the hostility between them. (Pilate was hated by them for his harshness and the fact that he was a Gentile ruling over them. Pilate despised them and eventually in the year a.d. 36 they were able to get Pilate recalled to Rome.) At this time Pilate refused to be their executioner. He knew what was going on. He had seen the Triumphal Entry a few days earlier. He knew that envy was the cause of their accusation against Jesus (Matt. 27:18). So Pilate decided to play a game with the Jews with Jesus’ life as the prize. He refused to do anything without a sufficient charge. The Jews’ accusation of blasphemy would be difficult to prove and would not impress Pilate as worthy of death under Roman civil law. The Jews seem to have lost the official right to execute but in certain cases people were stoned (cf. Acts 6:8–7:60). Jesus was popular, and the Sanhedrin wanted Him dead and, if possible, killed by the Romans. The Sanhedrin could condemn, but only the Romans could execute legally.”
John acknowledges the legal intricacies which were going on when he writes, “The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” The death the Jews refer to is death by crucifixion. The implication is that the Jewish religious leaders want Jesus to be executed in the most painful way possible. Crucifixion was a method of capital punishment in which the victim was tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation.
However, John recognizes the prophetical and theological implications when he also writes, “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Jesus had indicated that He would die by crucifixion (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33). This would be a fulfillment of divine prophecy (Psalm 22) and the accomplishment of substitutionary atonement (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Jesus had said that he would die by being “lifted up” (3:14; 8:28; 12:32–33). If the Jews had executed him it would have been by throwing him down and stoning him. But God providentially controlled all the political procedures to assure that when sentence was finally passed, he would be crucified by the Romans and not stoned by the Jews, as was Stephen (Acts 7:59). The Jews may have preferred this form of execution based on Deut. 21:23.”
In referring to Deuteronomy 21:23, the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
John Calvin concludes: “The Son of God is placed before the tribunal of mortal men. If we suppose that this is done by the caprice of men, and do not raise our eyes to God, our faith must necessarily be confronted and put to shame. But when we perceive that by the condemnation of Christ, our condemnation before God is blotted out, because it pleased the heavenly Father to take this method of reconciling mankind to Himself, we boldly, and without shame, glory even in Christ’s ignominy. Let us therefore learn, in each part of this narrative, to turn our eyes to God as the Author of our redemption.”
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!