The crucifixion (18:1–19:42) - continue

The Roman trial before Pilate (18:28–40)

Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the King, and the truth. He became the redemptive sacrifice for the world when he, the Son of Man, was exchanged for the “sons of mankind” in order to release them from their enslavement to sin, death, and the foreign (spiritual) powers of this world.

  1. Jesus delivered to the Roman authorities (18:28)
  2. Pilate and the Jews: “What accusation do you bring?” (18:29–32)
  3. Pilate and Jesus: “What is the truth?” (18:33–38a)
  4. The negotiation of Jesus (18:38b–40)


The term ‘praetorium’ denotes the headquarters of a Roman military governor. The Roman governor of Judea normally resided in Caesarea in the palace which Herod the Great built for himself. In Caesarea that palace was available as the praetorium (cf. Acts 23:35).

In Jerusalem it would be any building the governor took as his temporary residence when he came to the city. Two buildings are being considered as that temporary residence - Herod’s palace on the western wall or the Antonia fortress north-west of the temple area, connected with the outer court of the temple by the ‘steps’ of Acts 21:35, 40. The last one was the traditional location of Pilate’s praetorium.

“It was early morning”. On historical level, Roman official liked to begin his work at dawn and get it over as early as possible in the day. On spiritual level, the day of victory over the darkness was breaking.

The Jews are concerned about the purity laws but they are not concerned about the innocent man being handed over to the Roman authorities.

Moreover, while taking great care to be ritually pure before their Passover - they do not want to enter the praetorium - the Jews by leading Jesus to the praetorium to be put to death have prepared for the arrival of the true Passover.


The second section of the pericope (18:29–32) takes place outside the praetorium and involved the Jewish authorities and Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea in AD 26–36. Pilate represents Rome.

With Pilate’s question the trial has officially begun. Pilate serves as the judge, the Jews as the prosecutors, and Jesus, the accused, without defence.

Pilate seems to demand an answer to his question and not requesting it.


The Jewish authorities do not offer any specific charge - they accuse Jesus of doing evil. They declare him guilty without any evidence. Thus, they make themselves the judges and Pilate should accept their verdict - taking as the evidence the fact that they brought Jesus to him.

The Jewish authorities are trying to use Pilate for their gains (political and religious).

Thus, we have two worldly authorities (Rome and Jerusalem) fighting over a claim to power that ultimately belongs to neither of them.


Pilate now tries to disassociate himself from the case. If the Jewish authorities based on their laws declared Jesus to be ‘doing evil’ then they should be able to pronounce the final verdict. In this way, Pilate forced the Jews to reveal their true intentions regarding Jesus.

Since AD 6 when Judea became a Roman province, the death punishment was the prerogative of the Roman governor. But, apparently the Jews were granted the right to execute sentence of death against violators of the sanctity of the temple (cf. Acts 6:13 ff).

But, perhaps the Evangelist wants to make a different point. The expression “it is not lawful” can refer to what is forbidden to Jews by their own law of Moses.

In this case, this statement serves as self-condemnation. They were not allowed to do what they were about to do.


We have here a brief theological commentary on the result of interaction between the Jewish authorities and Pilate. That which is illegal for the Jews and less than desirable for Pilate would still be accomplished. Why? Because Jesus predicted it.

Neither Jerusalem nor Rome serve as the true source of authority over the sacrificial death of the Son. The use of “fulfilment” again equals the words of Jesus to Scripture (18:9).

“What kind of death” refers to the death by which Jesus dies: Roman crucifixion in place of the traditionally Jewish mode of death by stoning. The Evangelist must be speaking from the perspectives of the event that already took place, because there was nothing before to indicate that Jesus would die such terrible death.

Three times Pilate will tell that he founds nothing in Jesus as basis for a charge (18:38; 19:4, 6), before finally agreeing to their demands (19:16).

But, the Evangelist already here indicates what is going to happen - Jesus will be crucified under Pontius Pilate.

18:33 - cf. Mk 14:61 (the king of the Jesus - the Messiah, Son of the Blessed One)

The third section (18:33–38a) takes place inside the praetorium. It is private discussion between Jesus and Pilate.

The irony of the scene - the Lord of lords stands bound in front of the servant of the Roman emperor.

The Jews never explicitly stated the charge against Jesus (18:30), so the question of Pilate comes as a surprise. But, it seems then that this is the issue at stake.

It is difficult to know if Pilate’s question is incredulous and derisive (“YOU are a king?) or straightforward (”Do you consider yourself to be a king?"). It could be both.

The clear issue confronting both Jerusalem and Rome, however, is the messianic activities and claims of Jesus.

Jesus did refer to the kingdom of God (3:3, 5) and receive the treatment and attention of a king from both his disciples (12:1–11) and the crowd in Jerusalem (12:12–19).

Thus, to the Jews and to Pilate, Jesus was a kingly claimant in both word and deed.


Jesus was executed as ‘king of the Jews’. The present dialogue is going to reveal the true character of Jesus’ kingship and underscores its abiding relevance.

The identity of the king of the Jews in AD 30 may be a matter of historical interest to a few; but the nature of ultimate truth must be a matter of personal concern to serious people of all times and races.

In his response Jesus asks Pilate his counter-question.

Jesus lists two challenging options: (1) does Pilate speak it on his own accord? Or (2) do other people speak about Jesus in this way?

If it is the second, then Pilate should realise that in his judgement he is being influenced by the Jewish authorities. If it is the first, then Pilate is challenge to make judgement on his own.

Again, the reader realises that now it is Pilate who is on trial - not Jesus. The roles are being reversed. The interrogator receives the interrogation and the accuser becomes the accused.


Pilate disassociate himself from the Jews. His question expects “no” answer and he tries to make the trail the Jewish affair alone.

But, no matter how much he tries to dissociate himself, he has already been involved - after all the Jews handed Jesus over to him. Jerusalem handed over Jesus to Rome!

Now Pilate asks a more specific question to find the reason for handing Jesus over to him - “what did you do?”


Pilate tries to disassociate himself from the Jews but Jesus disassociate himself from ‘the world’.

Jesus’ kingship was nothing like the worldly form of kingship.

Speaking of the anarchy in Judea which followed Herod’s death in 4 BC, Josephus says: “any one might make himself king by putting himself at the head of a band of rebels whom he fell in with” (Ant. 17.285).

“My kingdom is not from this world”. This phrase has been interpreted in three ways:

  1. The spiritualistic interpretation - which interprets Jesus’ kingdom as internal, spiritual, and private;

  2. The future - eschatological interpretation - which interprets Jesus’ kingdom as something that will exist in the world to come, not in this transitory world;

  3. The ethical-religious interpretation - which interprets Jesus’ kingdom in a sense of ‘dominion’ or ‘kingship’.

This third one seems to be the most viable.

Jesus’ kingdom is not grounded in this world or established by means of this world. This kingdom has an authority “from above”, above and beyond the authority of Jerusalem and Rome.

The term “kingdom” includes both ‘the place’ - everywhere - and ‘the power’ - the sovereign reign of God. After all, the Creator of this world has a territorial claim over his creation.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this word - like his disciples (see John 17:16) - but it is in this world - like his disciples (see John 17:11).

Jesus offers evidence that his kingdom is different in kind - if his kingdom was of this world, his “servants” would fight for him. The word “servants - οἱ ὑπηρέται” is identical to the term used earlier to depict the ‘assistance’ of the Jewish authorities who arrested Jesus (18:3).

The fact that Jesus’ servants were not called upon indicates that Jesus’ kingdom is totally different, beyond the powers of this world. Moreover, nothing that is happening is beyond his sovereign control. In a sense the powers of this world (the Jewish and Roman authorities) have been functioning all along under his divine authority fulfilling God’s purposes.


Pilate’s question functions like a statement.

But, Jesus’ response shows that Pilate actually did not grasp the nature and character of Jesus’ kingship.

Jesus neither affirms nor denies Pilate’s statement. The nature of his mission, and his kingship is so different order from the categories of Pilate and “this world” that he can only denote the contrast by contrasting Pilates “you” with his “I”.

The world’s category of ‘king’ is too small to contain the fulness of King Jesus.

Therefore, Jesus describes his kingship (and nature of his rule) by explaining his mission’s purpose (truth telling) and result (truth hearing).

Jesus offers here a significant summary of the goal of his ministry to the world.

First, Jesus explains the purpose of his mission: “In order that I might testify to the truth”. Jesus came from ’outside of this world" into this world (1:14) in order to make the truth ‘visible’. The truth has a personal nature. Jesus is the king of truth.

Second, Jesus gives the results of his mission: “Everyone who hears my voice is from the truth”. The result of his mission is the creation of those who can hear his voice, that is, those who respond to the truth.

This also explains why Jesus ‘servants’ do not ‘fight’ against his arrest. The battle is on cosmic level and not on the level of human kingdoms; the battle is between falsehood and the truth, between darkness and the light (1:5; cf. 6:12).

Jesus refers here to those who “hear” and know the voice of the Good Shepherd, whose self-sacrifice provides the “sheep” with life “in abundance” (10:10–11).

Jesus invites Pilate to participate in it, to be one of those who hear. The truth can set him free (8:31)


Pilate abruptly finishes the interrogation with a question: what is truth? It is his answer to the issue surrounding the person and work of Jesus. But Pilate asks the wrong question, for truth is not a “what”, but a “who” - the person of Jesus Christ (14:6).

This famous question is being constantly asked in “this world”.


The fourth and final section of the pericope (18:38b–40) takes place outside the praetorium and involves a final interaction between Pilate and “the Jews”, not just the Jewish authorities.

Pilates announces that in the case of Jesus there is not basis for legal action. From Pilate’s perspective, there was nothing Jesus claimed about himself that warranted legal or disciplinary action according to Roman law.


The Barabbas episode is recorded by all four evangelists. Whereas John and Matthew seem to make Pilate take the initiative in offering to release a prisoner under the customary paschal amnesty, Mark and Luke suggest that the accusers and bystanders first ask Pilate to observe the annual practice. This practice is not attested outside the New Testament.

Pilate describes Jesus with the title “king of the Jews” something that Jewish authorities do not want to ascribe to Jesus.

18:40 - cf. Mk 15:7

The strategy of Pilate forced the Jews to be confronted with Jesus as “their king” at the Passover which commemorated the deliverance of the Jews from the wrong “king” - the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Ironically, the very king that had freed them from the wrong ruler in Egypt - God himself - was here being personally rejected by them; they would soon declare a foreign ruler to be their king - the Caesar of Rome (19:15).

The Jews reject the offer - they would again not even mentioned the name of Jesus but call him “him - or this one”. In his place they choose a specific person they call by name: Barabbas.

Little is known about him and the description - “λῃστής” - suggests that he was one of those violent, lawless men, often bandits, whom Josephus describes in Palestine in the first century (J.W. 2:13.2–3; 2.17.9). He is often connected with the Zealots - the insurgent movement fighting with the Romans to gain national independence.

The fact that the narrator provides his name is significant. It means “Bar-Abba” that is “son of father”. Thus, the Jews, by calling Jesus ‘this man’ and choosing Barabbas instead, exchanged the Son of the Father for a son of a father.

The title “robber” or “bandit” is also significant. This is one of the key titles contrasted with the Good Shepherd (10:1, 8). In contrast to the Good Shepherd, Jesus described the way of the thief and “robber - λῃστής” who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (10:10). Jesus, on the other hand, comes to lay down his life for the sheep (10:11).

This title is also used in Mark by describing the temple being transformed into the den of robbers (see Mk 11:17).

Thus, the reader is aware that the Jews have chosen the exact opposite of what they really need - they have chosen the “robber” instead of the “Good Shepherd” and the wrong ‘son of a father’.

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