Last week we sat back and watched as the angry mob before Pilate failed in their attempt to get Jesus executed based on charges of insurrection. We also then saw the Jews, in response, seek to get Jesus executed based on charges of making himself a king, saying in 19:12, “If you release this Man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” Up until this point Pilate had resisted saying multiple times that he finds no guilt in Jesus, but when they mentioned Caesar’s name it was game over. The paranoia of political pressure began to swirl in Pilate’s heart as these Jews threatened to bring this matter to a power much higher above Pilate. ‘Aren’t you a ‘friend of Caesar’ Pilate? Oh yeah? You think you’ll still be considered his friend when we tell him about this king you let go?’
Today, as we continue on in this passage, we see how Pilate responds to this threat. And to say Pilate responds poorly in v13-16 is a mammoth understatement. What we see in Pilate, what we see in this angry mob, and what we see in the chief priests here is simply horrid. It was Dante I believe, in his Divine Comedy, where we first hear the expression from Virgil as they were entering into Hell, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!’ The gist of that expression seems fitting for this passage before us. But does it? Must we abandon all hope as we see Christ enter into suffering?M
To that question we shall return, for now, let’s look at v13-16.
The False King Sits (v13-14)
“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!”
Apparently Pilate got the message delivered to him in v12. The paranoia of what Caesar would do to him for refusing to execute a self-proclaimed king landed on him with a weight he couldn’t bear, and under this political pressure, he came to the breaking point. Without responding back to the Jews we simply see him return inside, bring Jesus out, and sit down on the judgment seat. Before we saw him stand and deliberate and interact with the Jews, but now it seems by sitting down in this formal location Pilate is now ready to give the official sentence that will conclude these matters once and for all.Imagine the Jews in this moment. They’ve cried out time and time again, pushing this matter forward, unwilling to let it go, and here before the great judgment seat of Rome you must imagine that is now their silence eerily hanging in the air as they wait with bated breath to hear the final sentence.
Before hearing the verdict John gives us both the Greek and Aramaic names for this location, likely because he knew of these things firsthand and because he also knew he’d have readers that are both Jewish and Greek. The Stone Pavement, or Gabbatha, was a high place, around 3,000 square feet in size, paved with stones. It was an area set aside for official use in judicial proceedings within Judea. Whether this place was inside, nearby, or across town from Pilate’s Praetorium isn’t known, but what is known is what is plain to us in this text. Here sits the very representative of Rome, on a so-called judgment seat, preparing to judge the very One who will one day judge all men from the true judgment seat.
We get one more detail before the sentencing. John tells us in v14 it was the day of preparation, around the 6thhour. That it was nearing the grand Passover celebration is no trouble for us to hear, it reminds us that Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God that will be slain in the place of sinners. But that John tells us it was around the 6thhour, you should know, has caused trouble for some. Why? Because Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to give a different time. For example, Mark 15:25 tells us Jesus was crucified at the third hour of this day, while John tells us this trial wasn’t even completed until around the 6thhour. Some try to smooth this out by saying John used the Roman system of telling time where the day begins at midnight while Mark used the Jewish system where the day begins at sunrise. I don’t think this is a helpful way to deal with this seeming discrepancy in the text. Rather, I think we should be aware that we cannot approach a historical time with a modern bias. Or to say it another way, we cannot insist on a degree of precision widely present in our day that wouldn’t have been possible in their day. Remember they didn’t have watches, and it wasn’t common for people back in this day to carry astrological charts or sundials around with them. Most time telling was approximations, so it would’ve been entirely possible for two people to look up at the sun and one say it’s the 3rdhour while the other says it’s the 6thhour. This, I think, is the most helpful way to see this, because it shows us there is no discrepancy between Mark and John. Both would have us understand that at this point in Jesus’ trials and suffering, the time at hand was generally nearing noon, or late morning.
Back to Pilate. There he is sitting on the judgment seat, seemingly prepared and ready to make his final judgment…but notice that he doesn’t? All he does here is say to the Jews, “Behold your King!” What’s going on here? Recall that Pilate is no puppet to be toyed with by this mob. No, he knows the Jews real game here. All this talk about honoring Caesar as the real king is nothing more than talk political posturing on their part to ensure Jesus’ death. Knowing this, I think Pilate uses Jesus to mock these Jews once more by presenting Him as their king.So he brings Jesus out, as if at a coronation, proclaiming Jesus to be the King of the Jews.Little did Pilate know how truthful he was speaking earlier in v5 when he said “Behold the Man!”, so too here as he says “Behold your King!”, much is going on Pilate is unaware of. He may be using Jesus as a mere tool to mock the Jews once more, but as he sits on the judgment seat we cannot help but see him as a false king sitting before the true King standing.
Pilate has caved, and Pilate has mocked these Jews once more…how do they respond? We see this next in v15 as…
The False Priests Cry (v15)
Pilates words “Behold your King!” provoke and infuriate these people, such that the response of this crowd is nothing less than a tumultuous uproar. “They cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” To their uproar Pilate reluctantly asks once more, “Shall I crucify your King?” Like a bucket draws water up and out of a well, Pilates question draws an honest confession out of the hearts of these priests. Notice what v15 says, “The chief priests (not the mob) answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” My oh my…
In this confession the Jewish leaders aren’t only rejecting the claims of Christ to be the King, they’re abandoning their own belief in any Messianic hope to come, and completely forsaking the Kingship of God Almighty Himself. Adam did so in the garden, Noah did so in another garden, and Israel did it again and again and again both in the wilderness and in the greater garden of Canaan God gave them. Perhaps in the words of these chief priests you hear the pronouncement of God from 1 Samuel 8:7 once again. Recall that context, Israel didn’t find it agreeable to have the Lord as their King, no, they desired to have a human king over them like the other nations. After Samuel warned them many times about what a human king would do to them he grew angry and God in response, sadly, told Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them.” Nothing could be more ludicrous, shocking, or appalling to see these priests prefer Roman tyranny over God. How many times have we seen people in these later chapters of John speaking what is true without knowing it? In their confession they ironically lay open their true hearts allegiance.Sure, they may have played the part, obeyed the rituals, kept the ceremonies and special days, but when it came down to it – God wasn’t their King.
We’ve seen Pilate sit and show himself to be a false king. See here that by rejecting God these chief priests are showing themselves to be false priests. And yet, before them all is Christ. Christ, in whom the salvation of God’s people was entirely contained; Christ, on whom all the promises depended; and Christ, from whom the whole of their religion was founded. Contrasting these folks Christ stands before them as the true King over all creation and the true Priest who will once for all make the ultimate sacrifice to God by being the One sacrificed. Christ they rejected, which ironically resulted in them becoming strangers and aliens to the very covenants and promises they had previously enjoyed.
I’d like to pause here to expand on what we’re seeing.
John has prepared us for this very scene many times. “The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:9-11). All in the world and those within it have been created through Jesus and created for Jesus, and yet here those very created beings preside over God as if they had a real and true authority. If you’re are not convinced of the sinfulness of man, do you not see it here? How else can this scene be interpreted? Honestly? If this isn’t a kangaroo court what is it? A wise and prudent judicial proceeding where justice reigns? No way. Man’s natural bent ever since the fall is that we prefer our own way against God’s way, and when God stands in the way of us getting our way, we either bow the knee in submission to God or we seek to get rid of God. We see that here, but deep down we see it in ourselves as well. No day of our lives has past that has not proved us guilty in God’s sight. But be sure of this, we don’t call it sin, no, we call choosing our way over God’s way ‘freedom’ and believe that we are the measure of all things, that we’re truly free people. Could it perhaps be, that this ‘freedom’ to live life on our own terms is itself our deepest problem? I think it is. As alien as it is to embrace this, the solution is as alien. We think liberty to live life as we want to brings true freedom when it actually brings deep slavery; while also thinking that living life in obedience to Christ is slavery when it brings true freedom. We see this irony exemplified even here in this scene as it’s Christ the King who, though captive – bound – and bloody, is the only One who can free us from the chains of sin.
Let’s take this further. Don’t just see a sin to avoid here, don’t just be challenged. See what this text calls you to obey and embrace. Yes, here we see the sinfulness of sin in that those who reject Christ reject Him by adding sin to sin and bringing onto themselves every kind of ruin and misery. But in this text also see the joy of the Christian. What joy you may ask? To be ruled by Christ, to submit to Christ, to obey Christ, and to praise Christ as King! Church, we rightly sing of chains being broken when one becomes a Christian, but be careful to remember that God doesn’t break every chain. Yes He breaks the penalty of sin and yes He breaks the power of sin, and yes one day He’ll break even the very presence of sin…these chains He tears and will tear apart as easily as Samson tore apart the lion. But remember, after breaking these chains, God puts a golden chain on us. I’m not exaggerating here, I’m not speaking in hyperbole. Paul describes this in Romans 6:22, “…now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”
This is the joy of the believer, to be a slave of Christ, to grow and mature in Christ, and to be bound to Christ forevermore. Is this your joy? Or will you still serve no sovereign? I fear there are many under the impression that you can be your own king in this life while believing Christ will be your king in the next life. Wrong. In order for Christ to be your King in the life to come, Christ must be your King here and now. In order to be with Him forevermore, you must submit to Him now.
So yes, see the exceeding sinfulness of your own sin here in this text and flee from it! But don’t just flee in any direction, run too the proper obedience you’re called to here. Flee being a slave of sin and run towards the life of being a slave of Christ. This is the life the gospel calls us to, and once we embrace it by faith and feel those golden chains, oh the joy to find the freedom in His service…for His commands are no burden for us!
Well, let’s see this text through…
The Christ Submits (v16)
What else could Pilate do in the face of such malice and hate? He couldn’t let Jesus go now, Caesar would surely hear of it and deal with him severely. So, v16 tells us “…he delivered Him over to them to be crucified.” Or as another translation puts it, “Then at last, to satisfy them, he handed Jesus over to be crucified.” And to our great astonishment, Jesus the Christ, the true King who could’ve put a stop to this at any moment, submits and allows Himself to be delivered into the hands of His enemies.
Church, we have now arrived the conclusion of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and trials. This is the moment the whole Bible has been preparing us for. One commentator pauses here and says the following, “From the time of the fall, throughout the whole of the Old Testament, God was leading His people towards the day when He would send a Savior and through Him bring about salvation for all time. Similarly, from the moment of the conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary, right through to the climax of His ministry in Jerusalem, the gospels have been preparing us for…His death, and (by preparing us for His death we’re being prepared for…) everything it would achieve.”
We must return to our question we began with: as Christ enters into His deepest suffering on the cross must we with Dante say ‘Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here’?
By no means! Black this moment may be, but how bright a hope it gives us. The clouds surrounding this text are dark, but for those who put their faith in Jesus, these dark clouds burst with the deep mercy of God.
Here we rejoice in Christ the True King, who subdues our unruly nature to Himself, rules over and defends us, restraining and conquering all His and our enemies…Here we rejoice in Christ the True Priest, who offered Himself up as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God…And here we rejoice in Christ who by these things is the True Prophet, who reveals to us, by His Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.
Church, I tell you today what Pilate said to the Jews “Behold your King!” Will you respond as they did crying out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify this Christ!” Or will you now stand and sing another confession and say, “All I have is Christ”?
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 799.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 603-605. See also Morris page 800-801.
Grant R. Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 433-434. See Carson page 605.
Carson, page 605.
Morris, page 802.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, accessed via Accordance Bible software, 3.16.19. See also, Richard D. Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 544-545.
Mark Johnston, quoted in Phillips, page 545.