Time and time again the New Testament writers speak of the connection between Jesus’ suffering and death and the Old Testament Passover. That they do this so often carries with it one large implication: as Old Covenant Israel was spared from God’s judgment at midnight on account of the blood of the lamb slain in their place, so too God’s New Covenant Church will be spared from God’s judgment on the last day on account of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ slain in their place.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all show this in their own manner centering on the significance of the Last Supper. They expected Jesus to follow the usual yearly customs of this meal but He surprised them when He spoke of the bread as His body which will be broken and the wine as His blood which will be poured out. While the Passover was about the body and blood of an innocent and unblemished lamb, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper saying that He Himself is the innocent and unblemished Lamb of God who will bear the penalty as the sacrificial substitute for God’s people.
John comes at this truth from a different angle. John’s whole gospel is something of a countdown to the Passover moment that just so happens to coincide with Jesus’ death. Time and time again John goes out of his way to point out that Jesus was being prepared for His death like a lamb led to slaughter. John begins with a triumphant declaration in John 1:29 recalling the time John the Baptist cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” During an earlier Passover celebration Jesus spoke of His own resurrection in John 2. In John 6 during another annual feast Jesus feeds the 5,000 and speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Six days before another Passover Mary anoints Jesus’ feet in John 12. Shortly after in John 13 Jesus eats a meal with His disciples, during which He sends out Judas to betray Him. Then in John 18-19 we see the Jewish leaders and chief priests hurrying around to get a verdict from Pilate because they want to keep the Passover meal, all the while Jesus’ innocence is proclaimed three times by Pilate, and the people call for His death anyway.
What does all this lead to? John, more so than the other gospel authors, deeply desires us to see that the events of Jesus’ suffering and death occur at a turning point in redemptive history, teaching us that His suffering and death is the fulfillment of the Passover. How so? He will suffer in the place of His people in order that those people would be marked out by His blood and spared from the wrath of God.Or to say it another way: John deeply desires us to see that Passover existed then to foreshadow, to preview, to set the stage that Jesus would one day walk out on. This is why Paul will later say in 1 Cor. 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”M
Well, today we continue on in John’s narrative of the minor keys of Jesus’ humiliation. I began with a brief sketch of the connection between Passover and Jesus because this is abundantly clear in our text this morning. Therefore, in this vein our three points today are: the Lamb rejected (v38b-40), the Lamb abused (v1-3), and the Lamb condemned (v4-6).
The Lamb Rejected (v38b-40)
“After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.”
Having just questioned Jesus and been questioned by Him in return Pilate goes back outside to the Jews to share his initial findings. Though Pilate was dismissive and skeptical of Jesus’ claim to be a king and the source of all truth, Pilate did understand enough of what Jesus said to see Jesus as no serious threat to Rome. If this Jesus is the king of truth and if His kingdom is a kingdom of truth than Rome has no need to take this man seriously.So to him, Jesus may be released, for he found nothing of guilt in Him. And this should’ve been the end of the matter! Now, Pilate wasn’t Caesar but He was the supreme Roman authority in Judea, so when he arrived at a conclusion the verdict would be in, full and final.But this wasn’t the end of the matter. Why? Why didn’t Pilate use his authority as he has done so many times before? John doesn’t tell us why but, that Pilate asks them about this custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover, it seems for some reason Pilate is seeking to appease or win over this angry mob. Perhaps he has grown fearful about what this mob could do to his own position within the city and, being Passover time and wanting to maintain peace, perhaps he thinks he could win their peace by allowing them to keep this absurd custom. You can even sense his own mixed feeling about this in v39 as he doesn’t command but asks about whether or not this custom is something they would be interested in doing. “You have this custom…do you want me to release this King of the Jews?” Pilate is showing himself to be little more than a politician here, caring more about the popular opinion of the people under him than the truth of the matter, or really, the Truth standing inside his own home.
The people respond to his wavering initial finding of Jesus and his question about their custom with a boldness he should’ve employed as they declare their intentions. They do want a man released, but they don’t want Jesus, they want Barabbas. From what all the gospels speak of this Barabbas we can tell he was an actual threat to Roman authority because he had tried to lead a revolt in the past during which he committed murder.Though he would’ve no doubt been seen a terrorist to Rome he would’ve been held as something of a hero, a true patriot, even a Robin Hoodfigure to the Jews, and in this mob before Pilate there is no hesitation in preferring him over Jesus. The irony is rich in his release. First, here a man is released who was actually guilty of the crime being was accused of and Jesus isn’t released. Second, the name Barabbas is a combination of two words, ‘bar’ meaning ‘son’, and ‘abba’ meaning ‘father.’ Taken together his name meant ‘son of Abba’ or ‘son of the father.’ What a mockery that this son of a father was released though guilty, while the Jesus the only true Son of the Father was kept in bonds though innocent. Third, John mentions briefly Barabbas is a robber. This word in Greek is lestes, which is used twice in John 10 (v1 and v8) to contrast the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and His sheep don’t listen to robber’s or thieves, they listen to Him. Here in an appalling exchange the Jews choose the robber who’s been seeking to establish a worldly kingdom over the Good Shepherd is establishing His heavenly kingdom.
First conclusion of our text: though innocent Christ our Passover Lamb is rejected.
The Lamb Abused (v1-3)
“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe. They came up to Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck Him with their hands.”
After the scene began with Pilate going outside to converse with the Jews, in v1 John brings us back inside to see what unfolds next. Pilate takes Jesus and flogs Him. There is no attempt to explain Pilates motive for doing this, and can in one sense be jarring to see Pilate desiring to release Jesus and then beating Him. But the sense we’re feel is that He flogs Jesus in order to pacify the Jews showing them that Jesus has already suffered enough and didn’t need to be crucified. This is another attempt to persuade the Jews to some kind of peaceful resolution and not a mob like riot. Flogging, as most of you are aware was a severe form of punishment in this time. A whip with bits of metal and bone in it was repeatedly inflicted on the back of the offender. Whether done just a few times or done until the Roman soldiers grew tired the result was frequently a back turn into pulp. It would often be used to weaken someone before crucifixion so that they’d die quicker on the cross, which explains why Jesus was too weak to carry His cross.
As awful as this was for Jesus the soldiers thought it a good old time of amusement and ridicule. In their mockery they twist some thorny branches together and craft a makeshift crown for this supposed ‘king’, they wrap Him in a commander’s robe, and bow down before Him slapping Him on the face each time. In their view, after all, this Man had claimed to be a king so a king they made Him and a being a king they condescendingly bowed before Him. Little did they know how right their cruel jokes were, for the King was truly before them.
Depictions of this event have been made by the greatest artists of history again and again in an attempt to capture the suffering Jesus endured here but rarely do they come anything close to the actual details. The branches used to make this crown had thorns on it that were on average 12 inches in length. Imagining what it would’ve been like as those massive thorns were pressed down on His head all the way to His brow is simply horrifying. The goal of all of this wasn’t to make Him look like a king as most historical artists seek to do, no. The goal was to make Him look like a court jester.Old Testament images abound here don’t they? Before offering the innocent and unblemished lamb on the sacrificial altar during the Day of Atonement the Levitical priests would lay hands on the lamb, symbolizing that all of their sins were being put on this lamb, and that because their sin was on it, it would then endure the punishment their sins deserved, death (Lev. 16:21-22). In a similar manner much later Isaiah would speak of the same saying, “He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as One from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; rand the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:3-7).
Second conclusion of our text: though innocent Christ our Passover Lamb is abused.
The Lamb Condemned (v4-6)
“Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing Him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”
So Pilate has gone outside to bring His findings first, he then went inside to flog Jesus, now we see him come outside to the Jews once again, but this time as he comes out he isn’t alone. After stating for the second time now that he has found no guilt in Jesus worth an execution, he brings Jesus out, arrayed in His mocked majesty: bruised, bloody, thorns, robe and all. Many wonder how Pilate bringing Jesus out would reveal to the Jews that he isn’t guilty of any crime. Perhaps Pilate simply wanted to show how ridiculous it was for someone as lowly and weak as Jesus to claim to be a king.Would a true king allow himself be subject to such treatment and scorn? Clearly this isn’t anyone worth caring about. Pilate’s next words are as famous as his earlier question “What is truth?” Out Jesus comes and Pilate says “Behold the Man!” Pilate probably just intended to say, “Here is the accused” but the believing eye cannot help seeing more. God created the man Adam to be king over all creation, exercising dominion and authority underneath His own dominion and authority. But Adam failed in this task and where the first Adam fails the Second Adam succeeds! In Christ, the Son of Man, God’s original intention at creation is fulfilled. He is the New Adam, the Messianic King, and as the soldiers unknowingly spoke the truth in v3, so too here Pilate does the same. His pronouncement “Behold the Man!” announces much more than just “Here stands the accused.” It announces, ‘This is Man as God intended, the Man to right all wrongs, the Man to rightly and faithfully exercise dominion and authority on earth!’
Once again, Pilate’s attempts to pacify the Jewish mob fail as they make their own announcement in response. Pilate said, “Behold the Man!” The people reply “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate knows they cannot crucify Jesus without his approval and his own frustration with how bent they are against this so-called king Jesus, he states Jesus’ innocence for the third time, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” Or in other words, ‘You came to me for a verdict, I’ve given one, if you don’t one mine, fine, take and crucify Him yourselves!’Pilate knows that ultimately to keep peace, he’ll likely have to give in to their demand.
Though innocent Christ our Passover Lamb has been rejected, abused, and, now thirdly, is condemned.
To bring all of this home let me make two specific applications here.
First, about redemption: In Leviticus 14 there is a law about how one who has been leprous goes about cleansing. Two birds are taken, and one of them is killed. The blood of this killed bird is poured into a bowl while the other living bird is dipped into it, and then with blood-soaked wings, this bird is released to fly away free. The imagery being put forth here is that of a blood-soaked cleansing, signifying the newly clean state of one who has been healed of leprosy. Does this not give us a magnificent picture of the redemption of Christ? Indeed it does. The slain bird displays Him, the innocent and unblemished Lamb of God, killed for us. The living bird, blood-soaked yet free, displays every heart that has by faith been redeemed, flying off into the world sweetly singing in delight knowing it’s only able to fly so free because of the blood.
Learn here Christian, we’re able to be free from the leprosy of our sinful hearts because His blood ran out. By faith we can receive the righteous robe of Christ making us spotless before the throne of God, because long before Jesus took upon Himself our robe of shame. His majesty was mocked in order to pour out a multitude of mercies. He dies that we may be delivered. He did all of this not because of us but despite us. For if we don’t see ourselves in this angry crowd calling for crucifixion we don’t see this text rightly.
“Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there,
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life;
I know that it is finished!”
Our response to seeing these minor keys of Christ’s suffering here in this text isn’t pity. Do not pity Jesus as He suffers. He doesn’t want your pity, no. He wants your whole heart. Repent from sin, believe in Him, embrace His work, and bank all your life on it.
Second, about the Christian life: Jesus Himself experienced the world preferring a murderer and thief over Himself and the world has been singing the same tune ever since. Christ’s Kingdom isn’t of this world so we shouldn’t expect better treatment than He received from this world. It has often been the case that those who walk the closest with God in this world endure the most hostility from this world, being thought of as horrid and cast out as evil while criminals of all kinds are touted as heroes. Church, the day may not be far off when the world will do the same to any one of us. We don’t have to look today far for Pilate’s in positions of power or angry mobs frenzied by depraved agendas.
But we do not lose heart, because the Christian’s hope isn’t in this world, no. What is the Christian’s hope? The Christian’s hope rules and reigns over this world! In Him is all our hope and rest and pleasure and praise! So what are we to do now? In this world we seek another world, we seek a city to come, which means this world is to us what the wilderness was to Israel, not a place to rest in but to travel through to the glorious Canaan beyond!
Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach, Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution(Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007) page 38-41.
Richard D. Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014) page 521-530.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 772, footnote 86.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 595.
Ibid., page 596.
Grant R. Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 427.
Morris, page 774-773, footnotes 89 & 90.
R.C. Sproul, John – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2009) page 357.
Morris, page 792.
Ibid., page 793, footnote 10.
Morris, page 599.
Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit – 1864 vol. 10 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1991 reprint) page 586-587.
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2012 reprint) page 115.