Jesus took on humanity’s condition of death (the second Adam) and became the sacrifice for humanity’s sins (the Passover Lamb). For this reason God made him the King of kings so that one day all people will kneel and confess that Jesus is Lord.
This in itself was an act of injustice. Pilate just declared that Jesus was not guilty of anything and then he - through his soldiers - flogged him. Was he hoping that a smaller punishment would satisfy the Jews? Or was this an act of brutality associated with Pilate?
The instrument of flogging was called ‘flagella’ - leather whips to which were attached pieces of iron, bone, or spikes, which would shred the skin, often leaving it hanging from the victim’s back in strips. Moreover, unlike the Jewish law (Deut 25:3 - 39 maximum lashes), the Romans did not limit the number of lashes, thus leaving the victim to the cruelty of the supervising soldiers.
The Evangelist highlights the shame Jesus had to experienced. The soldiers do not only abuse his body, they also ridicule his reputation as ‘king’. They are making a mockery out of the title ‘king of the Jews’ (18:39) with a crown of thorns and a purple robe placed on his wounded body.
The scene is satirical imitation of the royal coronation of a king, with the crown and royal-coloured robe serving as the marks of investiture.
The term “crown” (στέφανον) is normally used to denote a wreath of victory rather than a ‘royal crown’ (διάδημα). But in this context both senses are implied. In this way they “honour” him as a victorious king so as to highlight what in their minds is clearly the opposite of this man before them - a defeated and dying criminal.
The theatrical parody of the soldiers comes to a climax here.
“Hail, king of the Jews” emulates worship given to Caesar “Hail, Caesar!” But rather than offering him a kiss of loyalty, they struck him in the face, either with their hands or with rods (Mt 27:30).
They were not aware, however, that one day not only them but the entire universe would truly kneel before Jesus and confess with their tongues that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:10–11).
Pilate addresses the crowd again and repeats what he already said - there is no basis to charge Jesus (18:38). Then, he brings the scourged Jesus in his mocking attire of a king before the crowd and makes the face pronouncement: “Behold, the man” (19:5)
The way Jesus looked reminds us of Is 53:2–3.
The emphatic “behold” draws our attention to perceive with the mind a truth not outwardly evident to human eyes (cf 1:29 - Behold the Lamb of God).
For Pilate the “king of the Jews” is nothing more than “a pathetic and harmless figure” - nothing at all like a king. But to the reader the exact opposite is the truth. The reader must see in this title something profound.
There are two options for interpretation of this title:
It is an abbreviation for the title “the Son of Man”;
A Biblical allusion to:
a) Is 53:3 - a man of sorrow;
b) 1 Sam 9:17 - God’s words regarding king Saul which matches the royal context of the scene;
c) “man” as in the first Adam in Gen 3:22.
The most likely option is the reference to Adam, the first man - “behold Adam” (Gen 3:22).
The title is spoken by God in the context of God’s announcement of the guilty verdict to be placed upon all creation. In Genesis 3, then, the title declares the mortality of Adam and assumes an ironic reality; “behold, the man” announces Adam’s alienation from God and his existence in a state of death.
In the Gospel of John, however, a reversal of this state of death has begun with the coming of Jesus. Jesus is the life (1:4; 14:6), who has entered into the depraved condition of the world in order to recreate it. This is why the Genesis motif is so central. What started “in the beginning” in the first week of creation (ch. 1) will be finalised by a ‘renewal of Adam’ in a “garden” (chs. 18–20).
The ‘exaltation’ of Jesus and his ‘glory’ has continually been directed at the cross, the place of death and humiliation that most clearly expresses the nature of Jesus’ kingship. By presenting Jesus with such a title, Pilate unconsciously proclaims the truth of Christianity.
Pilate’s “Behold, the man” can be completed with Mark’s statement “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39).
If Pilate wanted to earn pity for Jesus, he failed; but if he wanted to fuel the hate of the Jews, he succeeded. This is the first occurrence of the word “crucify” in the Gospel and it is significant that the narrative only lists two primary speakers among the crowd: “the high priests” and their “servants” - οἱ ὑπηρέται. They demand crucifixion.
For the third time Pilate says that he has no basis for a charge (18:38; 19:4). Moreover, Pilate was teasing them, knowing that the Jewish law do not authorised crucifixion. His whole intention seems to remove himself from this case.
Up to this point in Roman trial, the Jews were unwilling to explain themselves to Pilate (cf. 18:30). But now, they are forced to do that. They explain to Pilate that according to their law Jesus (“this man”) is required to die for blasphemy (Lev 24:16) - “he made himself to be the Son of God” (see 5:18).
Thus the case becomes not only political but also religious. The Jews are forcing Pilate to use his (Roman) political authority to support and facilitate their (Jewish) religious authority.
Here we encounter a paradox. Pilate (a Gentile) proclaims the sinlessness of Jesus, and the Jews declare that according to their law He deserve to die.
The third section (19:8–11) takes place inside again; but before that we are told what is happening inside Pilate - he is afraid. Is it religious or superstitiously motivated fear?
It is possible that a polytheistic Roman was more open to claims of divine sonship than a monotheistic Jew. But in this case it is a tragic irony - a Roman outsider proves more ready to believe something divine about the Son of God than his own people (1:11).
We are not told how Jesus was brought into the praetorium. Pilate’s question was already answered in the Gospel (3:31): Jesus is “the one who comes from above”.
Jesus’ silence is seen as a rebuke of Pilate. On the one hand, some commentators say that whatever the answer Pilate would get he would not be able to grasp it. On the other hand, Jesus already told him about his mission and his kingship (18:36–37).
The understanding of Jesus is rooted in faith (20:31) - as the famous passage from Is 7:9 LXX: "Unless you believe, you will not understand.”
Pilate then attempt to force Jesus to speak. Was he irritated or offended (or both) at the silence of Jesus?
“To me” probably is an expression of astonishment. After all, he has (he thinks that he has) the authority over Jesus.
Jesus corrects Pilate. Any authority he has it was given to him “from above” (cf. 8:15).
Pilate’s authority to acquit or to sentence to death came from the Roman emperor, but Jesus has in mind much higher authority.
Here, Jesus declares all authority to have its source in the authority of God, that is, in his own authority. Jesus is not absolving Pilate, for although he is not his own source of authority he does bear responsibility for the authority given to him “from above”.
For “greater sin” clearly implies that Pilate too has sinned.
“The one who handed me over to you” suggests a reference to the high priest, but the sense is collective referring to the powers of Jerusalem (11:52).
The fourth section (19:12–16) returns for a final time to the outside.
The imperfect form of the verb “wanted - ἐζήτει” suggests a serious of “attempts” to release Jesus. The reason for those attempts was the above conversation with Jesus. It was not faith in but fear of Jesus that was behind Pilate’s desire to set Jesus free.
But “the Jews” offer a quick response to the hesitant Pilate. The Jews contrast Jesus to Caesar and demand that Pilate choose between them. Thus, we have here the fear of Jesus versus the fear of the Emperor.
As the procurator of Judea it is possible that Pilate held a special title of honour - “a friend of Caesar”. It was a title of honour for those in close partnership with the ruler, someone in which Pilate may have actually been enrolled in - although some indicate that it came about later in history of the Roman Empire (under Vespasian AD 69–79).
But even if Pilate was not a part of such an illustrious fellowship, a suggestion that he extended mercy to Jesus would destroy him. The Jews who reported on him to the Emperor before, could report on him again. They could indicate that he committed a treason by setting free someone who claimed to be the king without the appointment of the Emperor. Thus, the fear of the Emperor wins over the fear of Jesus. Political prudence made it necessary for Pilate to make Christ the sacrifice.
But, by forcing Pilate to choose Caesar over Jesus, the Jews have ironically forced themselves into the same corner and have chosen Caesar the Roman over a fellow Jew, Jesus, the Emperor over their God!
The Gospel irony is clear when the Jews suggest that an alliance with Jesus “opposes Caesar”, for the reverse is also true. In this moment and even more clearly in 19:15, the Jews have become ‘Romans’. They rejected their God-given right to be God’s people and their God-given King for a pagan existence under a pagan ruler.
This decision was only political on the surface; deep down this was a spiritual issue, symptomatic of the sin of “the world” (both Jew and gentile) that had been separated from God (1:5).
Pilate’s decision was almost made for him by the shouting Jews.
Interestingly, it is not exactly clear who sat upon the judgement seat! - Pilate or Jesus? The reader already knows that the coming announcement was not rooted in the authority of either Jerusalem or Rome but by the will of God. Of course in the historical context it must have been Pilate but grammatically both options are possible.
It all depends upon whether the verb “sat” is interpreted as in intransitive verb - Pilate or as a transitive verb (having an object to receive the action)- Pilate caused Jesus to sit upon the judgement seat.
But, perhaps these two grammatical possibility are intended by the author, showing again both “authorities” competing with each other - one “from below - worldly one” and the other “from above - heavenly one”.
The place of “the sitting” is “the judgement seat” the “judicial bench” for the ruling magistrate. The same term is also used in the NT to refer to the judgement seat of God or Christ (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10), which perhaps can also explain the narrator’s intentional play regarding who “sat” upon it.
“The Stone Pavement” or “Gabbathat” in Aramaic is today identified as the courtyard of the Antonia fortress, where probably Pilate lived when he was in Jerusalem.
The time of the verdict is also symbolic - about noon on the day before the Passover. The main preparation for the Passover was the slaughtering of the lambs.
Jesus is the true Passover lamb first announced by the Baptist (1:29; 36). Thus Jesus becomes the fulfilment of the Passover.
The image created by this pericope’s connection between Jesus the King (19:2–5) and Jesus the Lamb is shown in the Revelation 5:6 and 5:12.
Pilate again uses “behold” to draw attention to Jesus. Whether Pilate intended it as another mockery or was speaking straightforward is beyond the point, because the reader already knows that Jesus is indeed the King of the Jews.
The response of the Jews shocks - three imperatives describe their anger or even hatred at the very expression of God’s love for them.
Pilate for the last time asks whether they really want their own king to be crucified.
The response of the high priests this time shocks again. But, their rejection of Jesus and God and choosing the Roman emperor reveals the truth. For the first time they were speaking the truth about themselves and their true royalties. God was not king to them, and thus they condemned themselves.
It reminds us about those priests in the book of Ezekiel who turned their backs to the altar of God and worshiped idols and the sun (Ezek 8:6–18).
These are the last words spoken in the Gospel by the Jews and their highest representatives, for the Jews do not appear again in the Gospel.
19:16 - cf. Luke 23:25
The pericope ends with Jesus being handed over to be crucified. But by whom and to whom?
On the historical level, Pilate had to give Jesus to his soldiers who performed the crucifixion. But on a deeper level, the referent for receiving Jesus could be the Jewish authorities who handed Jesus over to Pilate and spoke as the last in the previous verse demanding Jesus’ crucifixion.
By handing Jesus over to them in return, Pilate fulfilled their desire (cf. Luke 23:25). But the verse also shows the collaboration of Jerusalem and Rome - representing the whole world rejecting Jesus and taking him to the cross.
This verdict had always involved the whole of humanity.