By Sam E. Stone
Jesus actually underwent not one trial, but three. Two high priests were involved in the trials (Luke 3:2). The three Synoptic Gospels explain what happened in those trials (Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71). Jesus was taken first to the house of Annas (John 18:13), then to Caiaphas (18:24). Our printed text begins as Jesus was taken next to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
Most Bible scholars believe Jesus was brought to the magnificent palace in Jerusalem built by Herod the Great for himself and occupied by the Roman governor whenever he was in the city. The Jews who were accusing Jesus did not want to enter the palace, lest they become ceremonially unclean and thus unable to participate in the Passover observance. (A Jew was not to enter the residence of a Gentile.)
The next day was a special part of the weeklong Passover observance (John 19:31). To accommodate the Jewish leaders, Pilate came outside to them. (Perhaps he stood on a balcony, as he is often pictured). “What charges are you bringing against this man?” They replied, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Just as quickly Pilate turned Jesus back to them! “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
Then the truth came out! The reason they had brought him to Pilate was because they were unable to order death by crucifixion (v. 31). That required Roman authority! Jesus had foretold what was to come in John 12:32-34. He told them, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Just as Moses lifted the bronze snake in the wilderness and those who looked up to it were saved, so Jesus would be lifted up on the cross bringing salvation to those who look to him (3:14, 15). He was to die the death of an accursed one (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).
Summoning Jesus, Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered his question with a question. “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” A. J. Macleod notes that when answering the high priest, Jesus spoke in Jewish eschatological phrases, but to Pilate he simply appealed to truth.
Pilate’s rejoinder was, “Am I a Jew? It was your people . . . who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Questions must have been flying through Pilate’s mind as they talked. Jesus frankly described what kind of a king he is. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight . . . . My kingdom is from another place.” Jesus could have called 12 legions of angels to his side in a moment (Matthew 26:53). Jesus showed Pilate that his kingly rule was no threat to the political authority of Rome. “In reality, Jesus had come into the world for no political purpose whatever, but solely to witness to the truth about God . . . and demonstrate his love,” explains R. V. G. Tasker.
Pilate concluded, “You are a king, then!” Jesus answered, “You are right.” Then he added, “In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” It quickly became evident that it was not Jesus who was on trial, but rather Pilate!
Among Christians, Peter’s exp-ression of faith in Christ is com-monly called the good confession—”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). While this is appropriate, it is significant to note that the apostle Paul applied that very title to the statement Jesus made to Pilate: “Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession” (1 Timothy 6:13). R. C. Foster wrote, “It was of supreme import that Jesus did make the good confession and that he made it in the most public manner conceivable and at the cost of his life. Everything that could be devised was brought upon Jesus to make him recant and deny, but he confessed!”
Although Pilate asked a most significant question (“What is truth?”), he obviously was not concerned about the answer. Even though he pronounced Jesus innocent, he went on to condemn him to death.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.