PassageThese passages follow on from the trial Jesus had just had with the Jewish religious leaders. They have found him worthy of death, and so now bring him to the Roman authorities—in this case the governor, Pilate—and ask that Jesus be put to death. They have obviously prepped Pilate with their charges—that Jesus claims to be a king—so Pilate’s first question to him is along those lines:
And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” (verse 2 (ESV))Other than this, though Jesus doesn’t answer any of the many charges the Jews are bringing against him, which amazes Pilate. And, based on what happens, next, it seems that Pilate isn’t inclined to hold Jesus guilty, because he goes to carry out a tradition, whereby the Romans would release one person who was condemned to die, and he suggests that they ask him to release Jesus. In fact, when he talks to the crowd, he asks them “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?” which I find very interesting; the one charge that the Romans could execute Jesus for, Pilate is sort of admitting that Jesus has done, and yet he’s not wanting to execute him. (As verse 10 (ESV) points out, Pilate can clearly tell that the Jewish religious leaders have had Jesus charged out of envy.) This is followed by a bit of a tug of war between the Jewish religious leaders and Pilate:
But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (verses 11–15 (ESV))Incidentally, it’s worth looking at the ESV footnote on the word scourge: “A Roman judicial penalty, consisting of a severe beating with a multi-lashed whip containing embedded pieces of bone and metal.” Unfortunately, the soldiers aren’t satisfied with this scourging; they bring Jesus to the governor’s headquarters, put a mock robe and crown on him—this is the famous crown of thorns—and sarcastically salute him as a king. As they’re doing this, they’re also spitting on him and continuing to beat him.
When they’re done mocking him, they put his own clothes on him, and lead him out to be crucified.
ThoughtsWhat isn’t always clear in the gospels is that the Jewish people had a lot of control over their own affairs, within the Roman Empire, but there were some things they couldn’t do, and execution was one of them. So they had found Jesus guilty of death, according to their own laws, but had to bring Jesus to the Roman authorities if they actually wanted him put to death—which is kind of tricky, because Jesus would have had to have broken a Roman law, not a Jewish religious law, in order for the Roman authorities to find him worthy of execution. So whenever you see the Jewish religious leaders emphasizing that Jesus claimed to be a king, it’s because they were trying to accuse Jesus of treason against Rome, and therefore deserving of Roman execution. In this case, they brought Jesus to Pilate, who was the Roman governor. The ESV Study Bible tells us that Pilate was in Jerusalem “to keep the peace,” because of the Jewish Passover that was occurring at the time.
When Pilate asks Jesus if he’s King of the Jews, his answer (in verse 2) confuses me: “You have said so.” I guess my question boils down to this: Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Yes.” One word—I’m sure “yes” is probably just one word in Hebrew, or Aramaic, or Greek, or whatever they were speaking—and the question would have been answered. Most translations have some form of this awkward phrasing; the NIV uses the same phrasing as the ESV, and the KJV says basically the same thing except using King James-style English with “thou” and “sayest.” The NKJV is a bit more what I would have expected, saying “It is as you say.” However, notice the italics (which I reproduced from the NKJV): What the text actually says is more like “you say,” and they made it “it is as you say” to make it more clear. Every commentator I’ve seen just takes it for granted that Jesus is essentially saying yes to Pilate’s question—and Pilate definitely takes it that way—but why did Jesus phrase it in this roundabout way? I covered this question before, back in Matthew, and the ESV Study Bible indicates that this is a way for the speaker to turn the question back around on the questioner, but there is still a cultural nuance here that I don’t fully internalize.
From the end of the passage, it seems that the soldiers are taking Jesus’ claims to be a king more seriously than Pilate did. I’m sure their whole point in mocking Jesus in this way, and the severity of the beatings they delivered, were intended to be a warning to the Jews (and to any other cultures that were subjugated under the Romans): Let this be a lesson to you that Caesar is king, nobody else. Don’t get any ideas about forming your own leaders, or they’ll get the same treatment. Of course, regardless of the soldiers’ intent, we also have to read this passage in light of the prophecies that had come before: God had always told the Jews that the Messiah was going to be treated this way.