It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. (verses 14-16)
“What is truth?” (John 18:38). That question from Pilate seems to echo over this whole encounter.
Pilate comes across in this Gospel as a man with immense power, but undermined by fear and weakness of will. He seems to be searching for the just response in the midst of this crisis, but is unable (or unwilling) to find it. He’d asked about truth, but he fails to grasp it, even as it looks him right in the eye.
He has found no basis for a charge against Jesus (John 18:38), yet hands him over to be flogged and beaten and tormented by Roman soldiers. He brings Jesus out to his accusers again, dressed royally in purple, but black and blue at the soldiers’ hands. He reiterates that he has found no basis for a charge, speaking as much truth as he knows. Voices of opposition come thick and strong: “Crucify!” For a third time Pilate asserts there is no basis to bring charges, yet his grasp of truth is progressively weakening. The opposing shouts are doing their work.
Then, a stunning insight. “He claimed to be the Son of God.” The Jewish leaders present it as a charge, but Pilate receives it as revelation. He’s asked for truth; now he’s got it. Unnerved, he blusters and scrambles, eager to set Jesus free, but more committed to saving his own neck than living in the light of revealed truth. When the Jews imply that leaving Jesus unpunished will be traitorous to Caesar, Pilate buckles. He makes feinting attempts to turn the tide (“Shall I crucify your king?”), but his heart’s not in it. The shouts prevail. Truth is overwhelmed.
Ultimately, the narrative allows us to see Jesus more clearly. He is indeed Son of God. He is certainly King of the Jews. Yet, “the world did not recognize him … his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Instead, they sent him decisively on his way to the cross. The Good Shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He will certainly be “lifted up” (John 12:32). And in that crucifixion, we will see his glory. We will perceive him for who he is. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am” (John 8:32).
Truth is revealed.
Blessed Lord Jesus, I watch your relentless progression to the cross, horrified that those around could not see who you were. They could not perceive your glory. They could not embrace the truth.
Where would I have stood if I were there? Yet, through the cross your glory shines. The revelation is intensified. I embrace your truth once again, bowing my knee to my Saviour and my Lord. All hail King Jesus!
Reflect: He is the Son. He is the King. He is the Saviour. Pause to reflect on all he suffered in his progression to the cross. Pause to thank him. Pause to own him as Lord.
Picture: “Ecce Homo”, Antonio Ciseri, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons