John 19:1–16: Jesus Delivered to be Crucified
Not that it’s terribly important, but this passage and the next one awkwardly split verse 16, so it’s going to be included in two passages: 1–16, and 16–27. To be really be pedantic it would be 1–16a and 16b–27 or something like that, but I usually don’t split verses in that manner since links to Bible Gateway don’t support that level of fine-grained precision.
The last few passages have been leading up to this point:
- 18:1–24: Jesus’ “trials” before the Jewish religious leaders
- 18:25–32: Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the beginning of his trial before Pilate
- 18:33–40: The main trial before Pilate
By the time we get to the beginning of Chapter 19, Pilate has decided that he should find Jesus innocent: he sees no reason why Jesus should be put to death.
Wait… I skipped a couple of verses.
After the fascinating conversation in the previous passage, and Pilate telling the crowd that he finds no guilt in Jesus, the crowd has demanded that he be crucified anyway. So in verses 1–3 of this passage, despite finding no guilt in Jesus, Pilate has him flogged (i.e. whipped). Then, to add insult to injury—literally—the soldiers twist together a mock crown, made out of thorns, and put it on Jesus’ head, and dress him in a purple robe (purple being the symbol of royalty), and mock him by saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and hitting him.
Then Pilate goes out and addresses the crowd again, and reiterates that he finds no guilt in him. He brings Jesus out, still in the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and shows him to the crowd. I don’t know if he expected that the crowd would have pity on the bloody, beaten man, but they didn’t: when they see Jesus they start shouting out for Pilate to crucify him. Pilate responds, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him” (verse 6), but the religious leaders respond, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (verse 7). (John doesn’t mention them saying it, but they also could have said, “we’re not allowed to crucify him, according to your own Roman law.”)
When Pilate hears that Jesus “has made himself the Son of God,” it shakes him.
When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “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.” (verses 8–11)
Now Pilate is trying even harder to release Jesus, but the crowd—spurred on by the religious leaders, though John doesn’t emphasize it as much as the other Gospel writers—is having none of it: “If you release this man,” they say, “you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (verse 12). He now makes one last half-hearted attempt to let Jesus go, but finally delivers him to be crucified:
So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, 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. (verses 13–16)
I never know what to think about Pilate. Jesus’ crucifixion was obviously a miscarriage of justice, Pilate let a man be executed even though he’d judged the man to be innocent, yet at the same time, by all appearances he’d have had a riot on his hands if he hadn’t executed Jesus. Having Jesus crucified was clearly a political decision for Pilate, not a question of law or justice.
And to be clear, I don’t believe that Pilate believed Jesus was really God, or the Son of God. Yes, he gets very nervous when he hears that, but I don’t see any indication that it’s because he really believed, I think it’s just because… well, if someone claims to be a god, you get nervous about putting them to death! I’m not claiming it’s anything other than superstition; in this case, it caused Pilate to get more nervous about it, but didn’t prevent him from putting Jesus to death after all.
All in all, I don’t think I judge Pilate as harshly as other Christians might—though my personal judgement is meaningless and inconsequential.
But… why the flogging?
That being said, however, I do wonder why Pilate had Jesus flogged in verse 1! Remember the sequence of events:
- Pilate tells the crowd he thinks Jesus is innocent
- The crowd says no he’s not, you need to execute him
- Pilate has Jesus flogged
- Jesus is also mocked by the soldiers here; maybe Pilate knows about this, maybe he doesn’t, the passage doesn’t say—though he definitely sees Jesus in the robe and crown of thorns, so whether he knew about it initially, he definitely knew about it by the end
- Pilate goes back and tells the crowd he thinks Jesus is innocent again
Why, in the middle of all of his protestations that Jesus is innocent, does he have Jesus flogged?
The ESV Study Bible notes indicate that this is likely a light flogging, as opposed to the scourging that Jesus will get after he’s sentenced to death (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15); in other words, Jesus was beaten twice: a “light” beating in the middle of Pilate finding him innocent, and then a scourging (where he was whipped with a whip that would have some kind of bone fragments in it, causing severe cuts to Jesus’ skin) on his way to be crucified.
Having someone scourged before crucifixion would have been the norm; but why the flogging at the beginning of this passage? Did Pilate hope that the crowd would be placated by having Jesus flogged, and relent on crucifixion?
“He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin”
Let’s look again at verses 10–11:
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “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.”
There are so many instances in the Gospels where someone asks Jesus a question or tries to start a conversation on a particular topic and Jesus responds in a way that doesn’t seem to address the topic at hand. My favourite example being the first few verses of John 3:1–15:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1–3)
When Jesus does this, it’s always because the initial topic/question doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, and Jesus wants to get to what’s really important. His response to Pilate falls into that pattern, as well.
|“You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”||Jesus doesn’t deny that Pilate has authority to crucify him, but what’s more important to him is the question of where Pilate got that authority, and he’s acutely aware that all authority ultimately comes from God. If God didn’t want Jesus to be crucified he wouldn’t be, despite Pilate’s authority.|
|“Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”||Now this part seems like a total non sequitur. Why is Jesus talking about sin? First off, “he who delivered me over to you” likely refers to the Jewish religious leaders, or maybe Caiaphas in particular, but whether he’s talking about the high priest or the whole group of religious leaders, why is he saying this to Pilate right now? And I think it’s just that the Jewish religious leaders should have known better. They should have known about the coming Messiah, and they should have looked at all of the signs, wonders, and teachings of Jesus, thought about all of that in context of what they’d read in the Scriptures, and recognized Him for who He was. But they didn’t. So Pilate was guilty of putting an innocent man to death; the Jewish religious leaders were more guilty for putting an innocent man to death.|
And the main lesson for the modern-day Christian—or non-Christian, looking into Christianity—is to do what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t: honestly look into His life, ministry, words, and actions, and make an informed decision about who He is.