Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jesus and Pilate (John 18:28-19:16)

In Pilate and the Jewish leaders we see the dangers of worldly power. Both the fear of that sort of power and the ways we seek to obtain and maintain it. They are all simply playing a part in God’s salvation plan, but it is their political calculations and compromises that lead them into unwittingly accomplishing His goals.

Take a look at the sequence of events:

1. The Opening Move:

The Jews bring Jesus to Pilate. They had already been given Roman soldiers to arrest Him, so it can be assumed that Pilate was aware of the situation and had agreed to the arrest. They are therefore surprised when he does not “rubber stamp” their judgement, but begins a proceeding, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” That is why they answer in such a curt manner. They want Him dead, but aren’t allowed to enforce capital punishment. They are building a political case over a theological issue. Jesus claims to be the Messiah, even God Himself, but they need Pilate to see Him as a threat to the empire.

2. The First Interview:

Pilate questions Jesus. Jesus is careful to learn where Pilate stands before formulating His response. If Pilate is open to spiritual matters, Jesus will try to open his eyes. If, on the other hand, Pilate is merely acting politically, Jesus will want to make sure he has the facts straight. In either case His goal is not to escape God’s plan.

“Are you the King of the Jews?”
“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
“So you are a king?”
“You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
“What is truth?”

Jesus makes it clear to Pilate that He is no threat to Rome. His Kingdom, the reason for which He was born, is more than a political, earthly kingdom. He brings Truth. Pilate is not interested in Jesus’ Truth. Pilate is not open to faith, but he is also not open to being played by a mob.

3. Let’s see your true colors:

Pilate sees no crime in Jesus’ case, and mocks the Jews as he backs them into a corner. Would they rather he release to them their “king” or a murderer and true “terrorist” against the empire? The Jews, who have been laying a case for Pilate that Jesus is a political threat, call for Pilate to release someone who is demonstrably just that.

4. Appeasement?

Pilate then has Jesus beaten and presented to the crowd again. Perhaps that will be enough to appease them? He is clearly no threat. However, the Jewish leaders insist; they want Him dead. When Pilate still refuses, they break with pretense. Jesus is no mere political criminal—He claims divinity. This makes Pilate afraid. His whole role is one of balancing threats. He must keep Caesar happy, but he also has to keep his charges in line. Now, there is a possibility that he is dealing with something supernatural?

5. The Second Interview:

Jesus has already seen that Pilate is not open to the truth, so He does not continue to reason with him when pressed on His origins. He simply informs Pilate that he plays a tiny role in a much bigger drama. Pilate will be held responsible for that role and how he responds, but other powers are in control.

“Where are you from?”

“You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”
“You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

6. Forcing Pilate’s hand; bowing to worldly power:

Pilate is now determined to set Jesus free. He sees no grounds for punishment and he wants no more part in this drama. However, the Jews question his loyalty to Rome. He sits in the seat of and asks them if he should put their King to death. They—the leaders accusing Jesus of blasphemy; the leaders who are to see God as their only true authority—declare that they have no King but Caesar. They embrace worldly political power to protect their religious power amongst the people.

7. Expediency:

Pilate does the expedient thing. Rather than stand on principle and judge Jesus justly, he bows to the political pressure and sends Him to His death.

This is a momentous point in the history of creation. Things were going to go a certain way no matter what. However, we need to see this moment for what it also is: a warning. Never surrender integrity, faith, or truth in the interest of worldly safety, comfort, or protection. We followers of Jesus belong to a Kingdom that is not of this world.

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