“Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ ” John 19:4
The cross or crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the two most important events in human history. The other most important event, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place three days after His death on the cross. The cross of Christ is central to what it means to be a Christian, especially a committed Christian who follows Jesus. Although Jesus’ death took place nearly 2,000 years ago, it has implications for every day of our lives. Even though the cross was such a huge and powerful event in history, it also applies to the parts of our lives that are mundane and routine.
My prayer for us is that as we look at the last day of Jesus’ life leading up to His crucifixion and the crucifixion itself, we will discover that this is not only something that happened 2,000 years ago, but it is something that impacts our lives today. I pray we will not only see this as an historical event from the first century, but also as an historical event which applies to our lives today and tomorrow.
In John 19:4-42, the apostle John has recorded different pictures containing lasting lessons from the last day of Jesus’ life before the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb containing His dead body. John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. He does not include everything that happened to Jesus on that day. When Luke wrote his gospel he wanted to make sure he included as much as he could (Luke 1:1-4). But since John already knew that Luke was written, he did not include everything. What John did include are some of the pictures we all need to know about when it comes to Who Jesus really is and who we truly are in light of this.
Before we look at the details of what John wrote, we need to understand a couple of things: the person writing and his purpose for writing. When we understand the person who was writing and the purpose for which it was written, it magnifies the power of what we are going to read. 1 The person writing says, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.” (John 19:35).
First, we see that “he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true.” He knows that he tells the truth. John, the writer of this gospel, was close to the cross. The other disciples, except Peter, fled when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56). Peter was close and then he denied Jesus and fled (Matthew 26:57-58, 75). But John the Apostle ends up being the one apostle that was there at the cross.
The person writing is an eyewitness (“he who has seen has testified, and his testimony …”). This is an eyewitness account of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is different from any other gospel because of that. Matthew was an apostle of Jesus but he was not there at the cross. He talked to a lot of people who were there and wrote down what happened. But he was not there at the cross. He was an eyewitness of the resurrection. But he did not see with his own eyes what had happened at the cross. Mark and Luke compiled records from others, but they were not present at the cross. But John was there. 2
So we have an eyewitness who was actually there sitting down to write down for us the images of what he saw that day Jesus died. When you think about it, that is amazing! Two thousand years later we can pick up what he wrote and look at this eyewitness account of what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life before the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb containing His dead body.
The second thing was the purpose for which it was written. This is not just historical details. John testified “so that you may believe.” John recorded these details to enable us to believe. When we look at the pictures that John is going to show us about the cross, the result that is intended to take place in our lives is not pity for Jesus. It is not a deeper interest in history. It is belief or trust. Belief in our lives towards the One Who loves us the most. Believing in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 20:31). The cross is intended to enable us to believe in Christ more and more and more in our daily lives, no matter how difficult or mundane those days are.
We already looked at how Jesus was brutally flogged and then mocked by the Roman soldiers (John 19:1-3). Now we see Jesus standing before Pilate and a hostile crowd. The first lasting lesson we will learn from this, is, LIKE PILATE, WE CAN AVOID DOING THE RIGHT THING BECAUSE OF THE COST INVOLVED (John 19:4-7).
“Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ ” (John 19:4). After severely injuring Jesus through scourging, Pilate came out of the Praetorium to speak to the Jews. He announced that he was presenting Jesus, beaten and mocked,as innocent when he said, “I find no fault in Him.” Pilate was saying that Christ deserved nothing more than ridicule. There was no criminal basis for further legal action.
“Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ ”(John 19:5). When we first read that as believers, we may think, “What an awesome thing Pilate just said. He brought Jesus before those who were taunting Him and said, ‘Behold the Man!’ ” We may read that to mean, “Here is the most amazing display of what a man could be, because He was God and man at the same time!”
But upon further study, I believe Pilate’s words were spoken in a manner intended to elicit pity. He was attempting to demonstrate to the Jews the absurdity of executing such a weak and unintimidating man. Christ probably looked pathetic – bruised, bloodied, and disfigured from the flogging and crown of thorns pushed down into His scalp with blood flowing down His face (cf. Isaiah 53:2b-3). When Pilate said, “Behold the Man!” he was saying, “What’s to be scared of in this man?” Of course Pilate was scared. They all were scared. He knew even his words were wrong. 3
I also believe it is possible that Pilate is also trying to honor Jesus. “Probably Pilate intended to appease the crowd, and John and the Holy Spirit intended the reader to see the deeper significance. Ironically, ‘Behold the Man!’ is the answer to Pilate’s own question, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38). Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). 4
“Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’ ” (John 19:6). Pilate hoped the spectacle would quench the crowd’s thirst for blood, but it only seemed to whet their appetite for more as they cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” For the third time Pilate affirms Jesus’ innocence when he said, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him” (cf. John 18:38; 19:4, 6).
John is portraying Jesus as the innocent Passover Lamb of God without blemish (Exodus 12:5; cf. John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, would die for you and me so we would not have to die forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). But we must come to Jesus on His terms which means believing in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life to escape the eternal punishment of the lake of fire (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15).
What an amazing picture John presents to us. Can you imagine John sitting down to write those words of Pilate before a hostile crowd? Here is Jesus standing before them in His bloodied purple robe with a crown of thorns that the soldiers put on His head. The priest are ridiculing Him and Pilate is shouting, “Behold the Man!”
When you compare all the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – you find that Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent seven different times (Matthew 27:24; Luke 23:4, 14, 22; John 18:38; 19:4, 6). Seven times he said, “I don’t find any guilt in Him. He has not done anything wrong. He is not the guilty one here. Why don’t we let Him go?” Some way or another Pilate said, “He has no guilt.” If he is the Roman governor and he has the power of life or death in Jerusalem and he said seven different times there is no guilt in this man, why didn’t Pilate release Jesus?
I believe the reason was more than politics in this case. The primary reason that Pilate did not release Jesus is it did not cost him anything. What do I mean by this? As we said in previous articles, Pilate created much antagonism between himself and the Jews on a number of occasions.
“He was a weak leader who made some serious blunders early in his rule. He had his soldiers march into the temple area with shields bearing the image of Caesar, which to the Jews was idolatrous desecration. Caiaphas called out 2,000 Jews who surrounded Pilate’s house in protest. He foolishly threatened to slaughter them, a threat that politically he couldn’t carry out. When he had to back off, he lost face and undermined his leadership.
“Later, he built an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem, but he used funds from the Jewish temple tax to pay for the project. The Jews rioted and this time Pilate did slaughter many of them. The Jewish leaders protested to the Emperor Tiberius, who issued a scathing rebuke to Pilate for his poor leadership. Since Tiberius was notoriously paranoid and had executed many for trivial reasons, Pilate couldn’t risk another complaint to Rome by his subjects. He hated the Jews, but he knew that they held the upper hand over him.” 5
So Pilate did not want to cause further tension with the Jews who might quickly notify the Emperor and put Pilate at risk of losing his position as governor. Pilate did not want to risk his political career by releasing Jesus.
After Pilate affirmed Jesus’ innocence again (John 19:6b), the Jews took a different approach to persuade him to grant their illegal wish. “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’ ” (John 19:7). Earlier the Jews had tried to kill Jesus by stoning Him when He claimed to be equal with God the Father (cf. John 10:27-33). They considered it blasphemy for a human being to claim equality with God. 6 Even though Jesus had not violated the Roman law, the Jews thought perhaps Pilate could be persuaded to enforce their Jewish law by appealing to the Mosaic law which called for the death penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).
Now Pilate is afraid! “As a superstitious Roman, he believed that sometimes the gods came incognito to earth. If you treated them well, they would look out for you in the future. But if you treated them badly, they would make life miserable for you.” 7 To increase Pilate’s fear, his wife sent word to him as he examined Jesus and said, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19).
It may be easy for us to criticize Pilate in this situation. Granted, he was morally weak and self-serving. He was not a strong or wise leader. But let’s put ourselves in his place for a moment. Would you risk losing your job, your comfortable way of life, and perhaps your life to defend an innocent man? Have you ever avoided doing what is right because of the cost involved?
For example, have you ever compromised your integrity at work to keep your job? The boss asks you to falsify some records and lie to cover his wrongful actions. When you hesitate, he suggests that if you don’t comply, he can find someone else to take your job who will comply. What do you do?
Pilate didn’t have anything against Jesus and he thought that Jesus was innocent of the charges; but to do the right thing and free Jesus would have cost Pilate dearly. So he rejected Christ, thinking that he was protecting his own interests. 8 But in reality, he lost his peace of mind by condemning an innocent man to death!
Whenwe avoid publicly identifying with Jesus Christ as our Lord at our school or at our work to avoid rejection or conflict, we are behaving like Pilate did. If we are saying to ourselves in any situation in life, that we cannot let other people know that Jesus is our Lord, then we are thinking about the cost. What is it going to cost me in my job or in my school or even in my family? We must be honest with ourselves. We can show the same weakness of Pilate in our lives. The key is, are we willing to admit this? If not, we are making ourselves more susceptible of repeating the same mistake that Pilate made.
Prayer: Lord God, there is such a contrast between the innocent Lamb of God and the selfish and self-serving governor named Pontius Pilate. But are any of us really any different than Pilate? If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we, too, have refused to do what is right to avoid the cost involved. We have denied any association with You in public to avoid conflict or persecution. We have compromised out integrity at work, at school, or even in our families to avoid loss of some kind. Lord Jesus, You already know these things about us and yet You still love us. In fact, You died for these wrongful things we have done. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for being so merciful and gracious with us. Please grant us the power to do what is right no matter what the cost. May our desire to please You override any tendency to compromise what is right in Your eyes. You did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. May that spirit manifest itself in everything we do. For Your name’s sake we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of… Jesus Christ.”
4. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 557.
5. Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)” at www.Bible.org.
6. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 557.
7. Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus?