33.Then Pilate went again into the hall. It is probable that many things were said on both sides, which the Evangelist passes over; and this conclusion might be readily drawn from the other Evangelists. But John dwells chiefly on a single point, that Pilate made a laborious inquiry whether Christ was justly or unjustly accused. In the presence of the people, who were inflamed with sedition, nothing could be done but in a riotous manner. He therefore goes again into the hall; and, indeed, his intention is to acquit Christ, but Christ himself, in order that he may obey his Father, presents himself to be condemned; and this is the reason why he is so sparing in his replies. Having a judge who was favorable, and who would willingly have lent an ear to him, it was not difficult for him to plead his cause; but he considers for what purpose he came down into the world, and to what he is now called by the Father. Of his own accord, therefore, he refrains from speaking, that he may not escape from death.
Art thou the King of the Jews? It would never have struck Pilate’s mind to put this question about the kingdom, if this charge had not been brought against Christ by the Jews. Now, Pilate takes up what was more offensive than all the rest, that, having disposed of it, he may acquit the prisoner. The tendency of Christ’s answer is to show that there is no ground for that accusation; and thus it contains an indirect refutation; as if he had said, “It is absurd to bring that charge against me, fbr not even the slightest suspicion of it can fall upon me.”
Pilate appears to have taken amiss that Christ asked him why he suspected him of such a crime; (153) and, therefore, he angrily reproaches him, that all the evil comes from his own nation. “I sit here as a judge,” says he; “it is not foreigners, but your own countrymen, who accuse you. There is no reason, therefore, why you should involve me in your quarrels. You would be allowed by me and by the Romans to live at peace; but you raise disturbances among yourselves, and I am reluctantly compelled to bear a part in them.”
Cambridge Bible Plummer
33. Then Pilate] Pilate therefore (Joh_18:3). Because of the importunity of the Jews Pilate is obliged to investigate further; and being only Procurator, although cum potestate, has no Quaestor, but conducts the examination himself.
called Jesus] Probably the Roman guards had already brought Him inside the Praetorium: Pilate now calls Him before the judgment-seat. The conversation implies that Jesus had not heard the previous conversation with the Jews.
Art thou the King of the Jews?] In all four Gospels these are the first words of Pilate to Jesus, and in all four there is an emphasis on ‘Thou.’ The pitiable appearance of Jesus was in such contrast to the royal title that Pilate speaks with a tone of surprise (comp. Joh_4:12). The question may mean either ‘Dost Thou claim to be King?’ or, ‘Art Thou the so-called King?’ The royal title first appears in the mouth of the wise men, Mat_2:1, next in the mouth of Pilate.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
34. answered him] Omit ‘him:’ the introductions to Joh_18:34-36 are alike in form and are solemn in their brevity. The Synoptists give merely a portion of the reply in Joh_18:37.
tell it thee] ‘It’ is not in the original and need not be supplied. Jesus claims a right to know the author of the charge. Moreover the meaning of the title, and therefore the truth of it, would depend on the person who used it. In Pilate’s sense He was not King; in another sense He was.
Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, out of direct hearing of the vociferous crowd, where Jesus and John himself had remained under supervision of the officers of the court, and called—summoned Jesus to his side, and said to him that of which the mob outside formed an imperfect idea. The account of John throws much light on the inference which Pilate drew from the reply of Jesus, as given in verse 38 and in Luk_23:4. To the loud accusations and bitter charges of “the chief priests and elders” brought in the presence of Pilate, Christ answered nothing. His solemn and accusing silence caused the governor to marvel greatly. He marveled not only at the silence of the Lord, but at that silence after he, Pilate, had received from him so explicit a statement as to the nature of his own kingdom. An explanation of the motive of Pilate, and of his entire manner upon this occasion, is to be found in the private interview between our Lord and the Roman governor within the Praetorium. It is unnecessary (with many) to see in Pilate an “almost persuaded” believer in the claims of Jesus, who yet was warring with his better judgment, and apostatizing from a nascent faith. He appears rather as the Roman man of the world, who has never learned to rule his policy by any notions of righteousness and truth, and is utterly unable to appreciate the spiritual claims of this Nazarene; yet he was shrewd enough to see that, so far as Roman authority was concerned, this Prisoner was utterly harmless. His question was, Art thou the King of the Jews? Of course, he expected at first a negative reply. Should this abused and rejected, this bound and bleeding Sufferer, with no apparent followers around him, actually betrayed by one of his intimate friends, deserted by the rest, and hounded to death by the fierce cries of Pharisee and Sadducee, chief priest and elder, answer in the affirmative, it might easily suggest itself to Pilate that he must be under some futile hallucination. It has been said that the question might have been answered right off in the affirmative or in the negative, according as the term “King of the Jews” was understood. If what Pilate meant was a popular titular leader, imperator of Jewish levies, one prepared for the career of Judas of Galilee, or Herod the Idumaean, or for that of Barchochab in after times,—nothing could seem to be less likely or more patently repudiated by the facts; moreover, from our Lord himself, who had always refused a quasi-royal dignity (Joh_6:15), it would have required an emphatic negative. Pilate knew no other way of interpreting the phrase. If the term meant the true “King of Israel,” the Messiah anticipated by prophecy and psalm, the King of all kings and Lord of lords, the Ruler of hearts, who would draw all men to him, and east out and vanquish the prince of this world, then the “crown” was his, and he could not deny it; but before this assertion was made in the hearing of the multitude, our Lord would draw from Pilate the sense in which he used the words. He does not say to him, Σὺ λέγεις, “Thou sayest”—a reply given verbatim by all the synoptists, and referring to a second demand made in the presence of the multitude—but he put a counter-question, Sayest thou this thing, askest thou this question, from thyself?—from thy knowledge of the hopes kindled by the ancient books, or from comparing my words with my appearance, or from any judgments thou hast formed a priori? (so Godet, Neander, Olshausen, and Ewald). Thus Jesus was not so much informing Pilate of the distinction between the two kingships, as claiming qua Prisoner at the bar the source of the accusation. “Have I put forth any claim of this kind, which thou as the chief magistrate of this Roman province hast any legal cognizance of?” It was not, as Hengstenberg and Westcott suggest, an appeal to the man rather than to the governor, to the conscience of Pilate rather than to the forms of the tribunal; but (Meyer), with the intrepid consciousness of perfect innocence of the political crime, our Lord asks for the formal declaration of the charge brought against him. Or did others tell it thee concerning me? Alford, Lange, Schaff, etc., all agree with Godet in supposing that Christ was discriminating between the theocratic and the political use of the great phrase. It is obvious that he did rise from the latter to the former in the following verses, but it is difficult to find the distinction in this alternative question. “Did others (not thine own police or observation)—did the Jews, in fact, bring thee this charge against me? Nay, did they not? Is it not entirely due to this outbreak of hostility to my teaching that they have chosen thus to impeach me before thee—to deliver me to thee?” Therefore, first of all, Christ repudiated the charge, in the only sense in which it could have conveyed any colorable idea to the mind of Pilate.
Pilate answered, with the proud and haughty tone of a Roman military judge or procurator, Am I a Jew? The ἐγώ is very emphatic, and the force of the question requires a negative. You know that it would be insult to me to make such a supposition. The nation that is thine, not mine, and the chief priests, delivered thee to me. An unequivocal statement that he had no reason of his own to assume that Jesus was a political aspirant. Whatever inner reasons these Jews had to malign Jesus and confuse Pilate’s mind with the ambiguity of the title, the governor is innocent as yet of any such theocratic or religious meaning in the charge. More than this, the humiliation of the Divine Lord of men, the King of Israel, is grievously aggravated by the very use of the word. “Thy own nation has delivered thee up, has betrayed thee to me.” The crime of Judas has been adopted by the religious authorities and the patriotic leaders of the people. “He came unto his own, and his own people received him not.” Christ frequently anticipated this result of his ministry; and he regarded it as the climax of his indignity (see especially Luk_9:44; and cf. the language of St. Peter, Act_3:13), that the anointed King should by his own people be “delivered” up to lawless Gentile hands to be crucified and slain. Pilate assures him that, if he is now in his hands, the cause of it is simply that his own people had utterly repudiated his claims, whatever they may have been. What didst thou do to transform into thy bitter enemies those who would naturally condone or favor any such claim as that of being a seditious rival to the Roman Caesar?
36.My kingdom is not of this world. By these words he acknowledges that he is a king, but, so far as was necessary to prove his innocence, he clears himself of the calumny; for he declares, that there is no disagreement between his kingdom and political government or order; (154) as if he had said, “I am falsely accused, as if I had attempted to produce a dis-turbanee, or to make a revolution in public affairs. I have preached about the kingdom of God; but that is spiritual, and, therefore, you have no right to suspect me of aspiring to kingly power.” This defense was made by Christ before Pilate, but the same doctrine is useful to believers to the end of the world; for if the kingdom of Christ were earthly, it would be frail and changeable, because
the fashion of this world passeth away, (1Co_7:31;)
but now, since it is pronounced to be heavenly, this assures us of its perpetuity. Thus, should it happen, that the whole world were overturned, provided that our consciences are always directed to the kingdom of Christ, they will, nevertheless, remain firm, not only amidst shakings and convulsions, but even amidst dreadful ruin and destruction. If we are cruelly treated by wicked men, still our salvation is secured by the kingdom of Christ, which is not subject to the caprice of men. In short, thougll there are innumerable storms by which the world is continually agitated, the kingdom of Christ, in which we ought to seek tranquillity, is separated from the world.
We are taught, also, what is the nature of this kingdom; for if it made us happy according to the flesh, and brought us riches, luxuries, and all that is desirable for the use of the present life, it would smell of the earth and of the world; but now, though our condition be apparently wretched, still our true happiness remains unimpaired. We learn from it, also, who they are that belong to this Mngdom; those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, contemplate the heavenly life in holiness and righteousness. Yet it deserves our attention, likewise, that it is not said, that the kingdom of Christ is not in this world; for we know that it has its seat in our hearts, as also Christ says elsewhcre, The kingdom of God is within you, (Luk_17:21.) But, strictly speaking, the kingdom of God, while it dwells in us, is a stranger to the world, because its condition is totally different.
My servants would strive. He proves that he did not aim at an earthly kingdom, because no one moves, no one takes arms in his support; for if a private individual lay claim to royal authority, he must gain power by means of seditious men. Nothing of this kind is seen in Christ; and, therefore, it follows that he is not an earthly king.
But here a question arises, Is it not law fill to defend the kingdom of Christ by arms? For when Kings and Princes (155) are commanded to kiss the Son of God, (Psa_2:10) not only are they enjoined to submit to his authority in their private capacity, but also to employ all the power that they possess, in defending the Church and maintaining godliness. I answer, first, they who draw this conclusion, that the doctrine of the Gospel and the pure worship of God ought not to be defended by arms, are unskillful and ignorant reasoners; for Christ argues only from the facts of the case in hand, how frivolous were the calumnies which the Jews had brought against him. Secondly, though godly kings defend the kingdom of Christ by the sword, still it is done in a different manner from that in which worldly kingdoms are wont to be defended; for the kingdom of Christ, being spiritual, must be founded on the doctrine and power of the Spirit. In the same manner, too, its edification is promoted; for neither the laws and edicts of men, nor the punishments inflicted by them, enter into the consciences. Yet this does not hinder princes from accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline, and partly, by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men. It results, however, from the depravity of the world, that the kingdom of Christ is strengthened more by the blood of the martyrs than by the aid of arms.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
36. My kingdom] There is a strong emphasis on ‘My’ throughout the verse; ‘the kingdom that is Mine, the servants that are Mine;’ i.e. those that are truly such (see on Joh_14:27). The word for ‘servants’ here is the same as is rendered ‘officers’ in Joh_18:3; Joh_18:12; Joh_18:18; Joh_18:33, Joh_7:32; Joh_7:45-46 (comp. Mat_5:25), and no doubt contains an allusion to the officials of the Jewish hierarchy. In Luk_1:2, the only other place in the Gospels where the word is used of Christians, it is rendered ‘ministers,’ as also in 1Co_4:1, the only place where the word occurs in the Epistles. Comp. Act_13:5.
is not of this world] Has not its origin or root there so as to draw its power from thence. Comp. Joh_8:23, Joh_20:19, Joh_17:14; Joh_17:16.
if my kingdom] In the original the order is impressively reversed; if of this world were My kingdom. For the construction comp. Joh_5:46.
fight] Better, be striving (comp. Luk_13:24; 1Co_9:25). For the construction comp. Joh_5:46, Joh_8:19; Joh_8:42, Joh_9:41, Joh_15:19.
but now] The meaning of ‘now’ is clear from the context and also from Joh_8:40, Joh_9:41, Joh_15:22; Joh_15:24, ‘as it is,’ ‘as the case really stands.’ It does not mean ‘My kingdom is not of this world now, but shall be so hereafter;’ as if Christ were promising a millenium.
In reply to this challenge, Jesus answered—obviously assuming the fact that he was a king in a sense entirely different from that which had been maliciously suggested to Pilate—My kingdom—the kingdom that is mine—is not of this world. Neither now nor at any future period will it derive its origin from this world. So far as Christ is King, his royal power and state are not furnished by earthly force, or fleshly ordinances, or physical energies, or material wealth, or imperial armies. The dominion that he will wield will be one over hearts and lives; the authority of the Lord Jesus cannot be arrested or overpowered by physical force. Most commentators justly regard this as a spiritual manifesto of the sources and quality of the kingdom of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the separation between the spiritual and secular power—a declaration that all effort to embody Christian laws and government in compulsory forms, and to defend them by penal sanctions and temporal force, is disloyalty to the royal rank and crown rights of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hengstenberg regards the assertion as precisely the reverse; sees in the passage, “rightly understood, the very opposite purpose. The kingdom that sprang directly from heaven must have absolute authority over all the earth, and it will not submit to be put into obscurity. The kingdoms of this world must become the kingdom of the Lord and his Anointed, and he shall reign for ever and ever.” This is true, but not along the lines or with the machinery of earthly rule and authority. The influence and authority of Heaven works upon the spirit by truth and righteousness and peace, and thus transforms institutions, permeates society from the ground of the heart, modifies the relations between the members of a household, and transfigures those between a ruler and his subjects, between the master and his slaves, between labor and capital, and between man and man. Whenever it is triumphant, whenever the lives of kings and their peoples are sanctified by supreme obedience to Christ the King, then war will be impossible, all tyrannies and slaveries will be abolished, all malice and violence of monarchs or mobs will be at an end; then the wolfish and the lamblike nature will be at peace. Then all the means for enforcing the will of one against another will be done away. He will have put down all rule, authority, and power; for he must reign, and he alone. This kingdom is not (ἐκ) “from,” “out of,” this world’s methods or resources; does not begin from without and establish itself, or propagate or preserve itself, from the world, which is a rival, and is not to be coerced but drawn to itself. Like the individual disciple, the kingdom may be in the world, but not of it. Christ proceeded, If the kingdom that is mine were from this world, which it is not (mark the form of the condition), then, on that Supposition, would the servants (ὑπηρε ́ται, generally translated “officers”) that are mine fight, with physical force, in order that I should not be delivered up (παροδοθῶ) to the Jews. The supposition that the ὑπηρε ́ ται of whom our Lord spoke were “the angels” (as Bengel, Lampe, Stier, and at one time Luthardt, imagined), is distinctly repudiated by the ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, “of this present world.” If it were the case, as it is not, then would my officers be, not a handful of disciples (whom he generally calls διάκονοι δοῦλοι), but the servants who would be appropriate to my royal mission,—then would my servants be busily fighting that I should not be delivered up by the Roman power that is for the moment thrown over me like a shield, to the Jews, who are thirsting for my blood. The loud cry of hatred and vengeance may even at this moment have pierced the interior of the Praetorium, thus giving its force, if not form, to the sentence. Godet thinks our Lord was referring to the crowds who actually gathered round him on Palm Sunday, and not to hypothetical ὑπηρε ́ται; but the force of the condition goes down deeper, and, moreover, such language might have awakened the suspicion that, after all, Jesus had a political following, if he should choose to evoke it. Observe that this entire severance between “the Jews” and the friends of Christ, which, though occasionally adopted by the evangelist, is not the customary method of our Lord. The moment at which the Savior speaks gives great significance to the phraseology (observe Joh_4:22; Joh_13:33; Joh_18:20; the only other occasions on which the Lord used this phrase to denote his own people). But now (the νῦν, cf. Joh_9:41 and Joh_15:22, is logical, not temporal); i.e. But seeing that it is so—my kingdom, he adds, is not from hence. The ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου is equivalent to ἐντευ ͂θεν, and suggests that the kingdom derives its re sources and its energies “from the upper world, from above.”
37.Thou sayest that I am a king. Although Pilate had already learned, from the former answer, that Christ claims for himself some sort of kingdom, yet now Christ asserts the same thing more firmly; and, not satisfied with this, he makes an additional statement, which serves for a seal, as it were, to ratify what he had said. Hence we infer, that the doctrine concerning Christ’s kingdom is of no ordinary importance, since he has deemed it worthy of so solemn an affirmation.
For this cause was I born, that I may bear witness to the truth. This is, no doubt, a general sentiment; but it must be viewed in relation to the place which it holds in the present passage. The words mean, that it is natural for Christ to speak the truth; and, next, that he was sent for this purpose by the Father; and, consequently, that this is his peculiar office. There is no danger, therefore, that we shall be deceived by trusting him, since it is impossible that he who has been commissioned by God, and whose natural disposition leads him to maintain the truth, shall teach any thing that is not true.
Every one that is of the truth. Christ added this, not so much for the purpose of exhorting Pilate, (for he knew that he would gain nothing by doing so,) as of defending his doctrine against the base reproaches which had been east on it; as if he had said, “It is imputed to me as a crime that I have asserted that I am a king; and yet this is an unquestionable truth, which is received with reverence and without hesitation by all who have a correct judgment and a sound understanding.” When he says, that they are of the truth he does not mean that they naturally know the truth, but that they are directed by the Spirit of God.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
37. Art thou a king then] The Greek for ‘then’ (oukoun) occurs here only in N.T. The ‘Thou’ is even more emphatic than in Joh_18:33. The two together give a tone of scorn to the question, which is half an exclamation. ‘So then, Thou art a king!’ Comp. Joh_1:21.
Thou sayest that, &c.] This may be rendered, Thou sayest (truly); because, &c. But the A. V. is better: Christ leaves the title and explains the nature of His kingdom—the realm of truth.
To this end … for this cause] The Greek for both is the same, and should be rendered in the same way in English; to this end. Both refer to what precedes; not one to what precedes and one to what follows. To be a king, He became incarnate; to be a king, He entered the world.
was I born … came I] Better, have I been born … am I come. Both verbs are perfects and express not merely a past event but one which continues in its effects; Christ has come and remains in the world. The pronoun is very emphatic; in this respect Christ stands alone among men. The verbs point to His previous existence with the Father, although Pilate would not see this. The expression ‘come into the world’ is frequent in S. John (Joh_1:9, Joh_9:39, Joh_11:27, Joh_16:28): as applied to Christ it includes the notion of His mission (Joh_3:17, Joh_10:36, Joh_12:47; Joh_12:49, Joh_17:18).
that I should] This is the Divine purpose of His royal power.
bear witness unto the truth] Not merely ‘witness the truth,’ i.e. give a testimony that is true, but bear witness to the objective reality of the Truth: again, not merely ‘bear witness of,’ i.e. respecting the Truth (Joh_1:7; Joh_1:15, Joh_2:25, Joh_5:31-39, Joh_8:13-18, &c.), but ‘bear witness to,’ i.e. in support and defence of the Truth (Joh_5:33). Both these expressions, ‘witness’ and ‘truth,’ have been seen to be very frequent in S. John (see especially chaps. 1, 3, 5, 8. passim). We have them combined here, as in Joh_5:33. This is the object of Christ’s sovereignty,—to bear witness to the Truth. It is characteristic of the Gospel that it claims to be ‘the Truth.’ “This title of the Gospel is not found in the Synoptists, Acts, or Apocalypse; but it occurs in the Catholic Epistles (Jas_1:18; 1Pe_1:22; 2Pe_2:2) and in S. Paul (2Th_2:12; 2Co_13:8; Eph_1:13, &c.). It is specially characteristic of the Gospel and Epistles of S. John.” Westcott, Introduction to S. John, p. 44.
that is of the truth] That has his root in it, so as to draw the power of his life from it. Comp. Joh_18:36, Joh_3:31, Joh_8:47, and especially 1Jn_2:21; 1Jn_3:19.
“It is of great interest to compare this confession before Pilate with the corresponding confession before the high priest (Mat_26:64). The one addressed to the Jews is in the language of prophecy, the other addressed to a Roman appeals to the universal testimony of conscience. The one speaks of a future manifestation of glory, the other of a present manifestation of truth … It is obvious how completely they answer severally to the circumstances of the two occasions.” Westcott, in loco.
Pilate therefore said to him, Art thou a King then? The precise meaning of this exclamation depends on the accentuation of ουκουν—whether it be οὐκοῦν equivalent to igitur, “therefore:” “Therefore on your own showing you are a King!” or whether οὔκουν be the form; then it would have the force of nonne igitur? expecting an affirmative response. It is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον in the New Testament, but it generally implies an inference and a question expecting agreement with the questioner. Here Pilate flashes out with haughty rebuke. He had satisfied himself that Jesus was no political rival; hut, in wonderment and scorn, he would sound a little deeper the mystery of the kingly claim. It is not a judicial inquiry, but a burst of ironical surprise: So then, after all, thou art a King, even then? wavering between positive and negative reply. Hengstenberg sees neither irony nor scorn in the obsess, but a certain amount of disturbed equanimity. Jesus answered, Thou sayest it, that I am a King. This mode of affirmation is not found in classical Greek or the LXX., but occurs in the New Testament, and in the synoptists also it is given as the great answer of Jesus. Some have translated the ὅτι as “for” or “because,” and added “well” and “rightly” to the λέγεις. Thus: Thou sayest well, for I am a King. Hengstenberg and Lampe separate this declaration from what follows, which they interpret exclusively of the prophetic office of Jesus: but the εἰς τοῦτο points backwards as well as forwards, and our Lord accepts that which he proceeds to explain as his royal functions. Westcott, however, says that Jesus neither accepts nor rejects the title of King, but simply reiterates Pilate’s words, “Thou sayest that I am a King; I will proceed to explain what I mean by my royal mission.” Seeing, however, that our Lord had already implicitly avowed his kingly state, it is far better to discern in the reply an acknowledgment of the inference which Pilate had scornfully drawn. This is the “good confession” to which St. Paul referred (1Ti_6:13). This is the assumption, before the tribunal of the whole world, that he was and would forever remain its true King. To this end have I been born. Γεγέννημαι is an important admission of his true humanity, which Keim and others are unwilling to find in the Fourth Gospel. And to this end have I come into the world. These words are not tautological. In the first clause he asserts his birth as a man, in the second he refers to the state of being which preceded his incarnation (cf. here Joh_16:28, note), out of which he came, and to which he is now returning. The being “born” of woman is one fact, the “coming into this world” is another which he makes antithetical to his return to the Father. Ἐλήλυθα, present perfect, being used instead of ἤλθον, and implies that his “coming is permanent in its effects, and not simply a past historic fact” (Westcott). In order that I might bear witness unto the truth. This is his supreme claim. There is an absolute reality. God’s way of thinking about things is the closest approximation we can make to the concept of “truth per se.” In this is comprehended all the reality of the Divine nature and character; all that the eternal God thinks concerning man and the laws which have been given him, and concerning the failure of man to realize God’s idea of what he ought to have been; all the absolute fact, just as it really is, of man’s peril and his prospects, the actual relations between body and spirit, between the individual and the community; all man’s positive need of redemption; all the deep mystery of Christ’s own Person and work. These constitute the mighty realm of things, beings, duties, and prospects, which we call truth. Jesus said he had been born and had come into the world in order to bear witness to truth. From John the Baptist’s standpoint, that prophet bore witness concerning the light (Joh_1:7, Joh_1:8), and, according to the range of his vision, he too (Joh_5:33) bore “witness to the truth” (i.e. so far as he knew it) of the Christ. Our Lord now solemnly declares that he himself came to bear witness to THE TRUTH in all its amplitude. Hengstenberg sees in these words simply a reference here to the prophetic office of Christ; but the next clause shows that our Lord is actually defining by this claim the extent of the kingdom that is “not from hence” or from this world as its origin. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. To “hear the voice” is to obey as a supreme authority (Joh_10:8, Joh_10:16, Joh_10:27), and the phrase shows how widely the thought ranges. Every mind open to the influence of truth, every one who is set against the unrealities of mere opinion or tradition, who derives life and joy from the realm of reality, every one who therefore knows how different he might be, how much he needs, who is “of God,” as the Source and Beginning and Ground of all things. Compare here the remarkable parallel to this sentiment, Jn rift. 47; and also the words of the high-priestly prayer, “All thine are mine, and mine are thine,” and “Those whom thou hast given me are thine; thine they were, and thou gavest them me.” The same large embrace of human souls is conspicuous here, Every one that is of the truth heareth the voice of Christ, and will accept his authority as final and supreme. The sublime witness to the truth which he had been bearing, in this manifestation of the Name of the Father, would make the voice of Jesus the imperial and august authority for all who fell how much they needed truth. The Sanhedrists said that “truth is the seal of God,” and they played upon the word תם) or “truth,” by making it equivalent to the first and middle and last of all things, seeing that אמת, are the first, middle, and last of the letters of the alphabet
38.What is truth? Some think that Pilate puts this question through curiosity, as irreligious men are sometimes accustomed to be eagerly desirous of learning something that is new to them, and yet do not know why they wish it; for they intend nothing more than to gratify their ears. For my own part, I rather think that it is an expression of disdain; for Pilate thought himself highly insulted when Christ represented him as destitute of all knowledge of the truth. Here we see in Pilate a disease which is customary among men. Though we are all aware of our ignorance, yet there are few who are willing to confess it; and the consequence is, that the greater part of men reject the true doctrine. Afterwards, the Lord, who is the Teacher of the humble, blinds the proud, and thus inflicts on them the punishment which they deserve. From the same pride arises such disdain, that they do not choose to submit to learn, because all lay claim to sagacity and acuteness of mind. Truth is believed to be a common thing; but God declares, on the contrary, that it far exceeds the capacity of the human understanding.
The same thing happens in other matters. The principal articles of theology are, the curse pronounced on the human race, the corruption of nature, the mortification of the flesh, the renewal of the life, the reconciliation effected by free grace through the only sacrifice, the imputation of righteousness, by means of which a sinner is accepted by God, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. These, being paradoxes, are disdainfully rejected by the ordinary understanding of men. Few, therefore, make progress in the school of God, because we scarcely find one person in ten who attends to the first and elementary instructions; and why is this, but because they measure the secret wisdom of God by their own understanding?
That Pilate spoke in mockery is evident from this circumstance, that he immediately goes out. In short, he is angry with Christ for boasting that he brings forward the truth, which formerly lay hidden in darkness. Yet this indignation of Pilate shows that wicked men never reject the doctrine of the Gospel so spitefully as not to be somewhat moved by its efficacy; for, though Pilate did not proceed so far as to become humble and teachable, yet he is constrained to feel some inward compunction.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
38. What is truth?] Pilate does not ask about ‘the Truth,’ but truth in any particular case. His question does not indicate any serious wish to know what truth really is, nor yet the despairing scepticism of a baffled thinker; nor, on the other hand, is it uttered in a light spirit of ‘jesting’ (as Bacon thought). Rather it is the half-pitying, half-impatient, question of a practical man of the world, whose experience of life has convinced him that truth is a dream of enthusiasts, and that a kingdom in which truth is to be supreme is as visionary as that of the Stoics. He has heard enough to convince him that the Accused is no dangerous incendiary, and he abruptly brings the investigation to a close with a question, which to his mind cuts at the root of the Prisoner’s aspirations. Here probably we must insert the sending to Herod Antipas, who had come from Tiberias, as Pilate from Caesarea, on account of the Feast, the one to win popularity, the other to keep order (Luk_23:6-12).
38. unto the Jews] Apparently this means the mob and not the hierarchy. Pilate hoped that only a minority were moving against Jesus; by an appeal to the majority he might be able to acquit Him without incurring odium. By pronouncing Him legally innocent he would gain this majority; by proposing to release Him on account of the Feast rather than of His innocence he would avoid insulting the Sanhedrin, who had already pronounced Him guilty. From S. Mark (Mar_15:8; Mar_15:11) it would appear that some of the multitude hoped to deliver Jesus on the plea of the Feast and took the initiative in reminding Pilate of the custom, but were controlled by the priests and made to clamour for Barabbas.
I find in him no fault at all] Rather, I find no ground of accusation in him. As in Joh_19:6, the pronoun is emphatic; ‘I, the Roman judge, in contrast to you Jewish fanatics.’ The word here and Joh_19:4; Joh_19:6 rendered ‘fault’ (aitia) is rendered ‘accusation’ Mat_27:37 and Mar_15:26, and ‘cause’ Act_13:28; Act_28:18. In all these passages it seems to mean ‘legal ground for prosecution.’
39.But you have a custom. Pilate was all along pondering in what way he might save Christ’s life; but, the people being so fiercely enraged, he attempted to keep a middle path, in order to allay their fury; for he thought that it would be enough if Christ, being dismissed as a malefactor, were marked with perpetual ignominy, lie therefore selects Barabbas above all others, in order that, by a comparison with that man, the hatred which they bore to Christ might be softened down; for Barabbas was universally and strongly detested on account of his atrocious crimes. And, indeed, is there any thing more detestable than a robber? But Luke (Luk_23:19) relates that, in addition to this, he was guilty of other crimes.
That the Jews preferred him to Christ, did not happen without a singular interposition of the providence of God; for it would have been highly unbecoming, that the Son of God should be rescued from death by so dishonorable a price. Yeb by his death, he was thrown into the deepest ignominy, so that, in consequence of the release of Barabbas, he was crucified between two robbers; for he had taken upon himself the sins of all, which could not be expiated in any other way; and the glory of his resurrection, by which it was speedily followed, caused his death itself to be a splendid triumph.
This custom, by which the Roman governor delivered up to the Jews, every year, at the passover, some criminal, involved a base and heinous crime. It was done, no doubt in order to honor the sacredness of the day, but was, in reality, nothing else than a shameful profanation of it; for Scripture declares, that
he who acquitteth the guilty is abomination in the sight of God, (Pro_17:15;)
and therefore he is far from taking delight in that improper kind of forgiveness. Let us learn by this example, that nothing is more ridiculous, than to attempt to serve God by our inventions; for, as soon as men begin to follow their own imaginations, there will be no end till, by falling into some of the most absurd fooleries, they openly insult God. The rule for the worship of God, therefore, ought to be taken from nothing else than from his own appointment.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
40. Then cried they all again] Better, They cried out therefore (Joh_18:3) again all of them. S. John has not mentioned any previous shout of the multitude; he once more assumes that his readers know the chief facts. See on Joh_19:6.
Barabbas] Or, Bar-Abbas, son of Abba (father). The innocent Son of the Father is rejected for the blood-stained son of a father. In Mat_27:16-17 some inferior authorities read ‘Jesus Barabbas’ as his name, and Pilate asks ‘Which do ye wish that I release to you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus Who is called Christ?’ The reading is remarkable, but it is supported by no good MS.
Now Barabbas was a robber] There is a tragic impressiveness in this brief remark. Comp. ‘Jesus wept’ (Joh_11:35), and ‘And it was night’ (Joh_13:30). It is to be regretted that ‘robber’ has not always been given as the translation of the Greek word used here (ληστής not κλέπτης). Thus we should have ‘den of robbers’ or ‘robbers’ cave’ (Mat_21:13); ‘as against a robber’ (Mat_26:55); ‘two robbers’ (Mat_27:38; Mat_27:44). The ‘robber’ is the bandit or brigand, who is more dangerous to persons than to property, and sometimes combines something of chivalry with his violence. In the case of Barabbas we know from S. Mark and S. Luke that he had been guilty of insurrection and consequent bloodshed rather than of stealing; and this was very likely the case also with the two robbers crucified with Jesus. Thus by a strange irony of fate the hierarchy obtain the release of a man guilty of the very political crime with which they charged Christ,—sedition. The people no doubt had some sympathy with the insurrectionary movement of Barabbas, and on this the priests worked. Barabbas had done, just what Jesus had refused to do, take the lead against the Romans. “They laid information against Jesus before the Roman government as a dangerous character; their real complaint against Him was precisely this, that He was not dangerous. Pilate executed Him on the ground that His kingdom was of this world; the Jews procured His execution precisely because it was not.” Ecce Homo, p. 27.
(c) [Without the Praetorium.] The Roman trial continued without the Praetorium, where Pilate declared Christ innocent, and made another effort to save him. The Barabbas-proposal. Before the scene which John here introduces with a but—as though it followed immediately upon the utterance of a verdict of acquittal—Luke tells us that casual reference was made to the circumstance that Jesus was a Galilaean, and was in Herod’s jurisdiction. Eager to quit himself’ of a troublesome presence and business, Pilate caught at the expedient of sending Jesus at once to the court of Herod (Luk_23:6-12). This issuing in no result except in fresh and hideous mockery of the King of kings, and in a renewed protestation of his innocence and harmlessness, so far as the Roman Pilate or the Herodian tetrarch could discover, Pilate offered to scourge the Son of God, and release him. The utter meanness and cowardice of his offer to add ignominious pain and insult to the brutal mockeries of Herod and his soldiers, brands Pilate with eternal shame. As soon as the word “release” broke upon their ears, there was a reminder from the people that Pilate should follow at the feast the custom for some time in vogue, of releasing a prisoner. Now, there was a notorious criminal, who had stirred up a bloody insurrection in the city, one which had resulted in murder. He may have been popular among the vehement anti-imperial party for some seditious proceedings against constituted authorities; he may, in fact, really have been guilty of the very charge brought wickedly against the holy Jesus. This is only conjecture. But there he stood—Barabbas, and, according to some manuscripts, “Jesus” also by name, “Son of the Father,” but a violent man, a λῃστής, statue with crime, whether he were a Gaulonite or not. The notion of releasing Barabbas, in accordance with a time honored custom, did, according to Luke, originate first of all with some of the people; and this apparent difference between the synoptic narrative and John’s is represented and referred to in this Gospel by the introduction of a πάλιν (verse 40). For although John does not mention the first attempt to secure the safety of Barabbas, he implied that the infernal shout, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” had already burst upon his ears, and was repeated so soon as Pilate had exclaimed, as John briefly reports, Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover. We know nothing of the origin of this “custom,” nor is it elsewhere referred to. The two classes into which critics are divided about the “day of our Lord’s death,” here take opposite views as to the meaning of the phrase, ἐν τῷ πάσχα. The one class press the fact that the Paschal meal must be over, and that this must have been the first day of unleavened bread, in order to justify this expression; the other critics urge that since the feast had not commenced, Pilate was prepared to grant release in time for Barabbas to take his place with his friends in all the national ceremonies. The phrase, according to Meyer and others, is so indefinite that it may most certainly belong to both the 14th and 15th days of Nisan, and no conclusive argument can, from its use, be drawn in favor of either day. Will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Again therefore they cried all, Not this Man, but Barabbas! Now Barabbas was a robber. Possibly Pilate wished to find out whether among the ὄχλος there were any sympathizers with Jesus, who might be gratified at the expense of the hated priests; for he “knew that by reason of envy they had delivered up Jesus to him.” He wished to set the multitude and the priesthood at variance, and to save Jesus through their mutual recriminations. He would have made a diversion in favor of his Prisoner. He adroitly suspected that some of the surging crowd might have been the friends or accomplices of Jesus, and he would have been gratified to free himself from the responsibility of slaying an innocent man. The phraseology of Mark suggests that Pilate would have been justified in such a conjecture, for a momentary pause occurred. There were some symptoms of wavering in the crowd. But the suggestions of the chief priests passed to the people. Matthew (Mat_27:20) says, “The chief priests and elders persuaded (ἔπεισαν) the multitudes that they should demand Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.” They needed some persuasion, then: but, alas! they yielded to it. Mark (Mar_15:11) is still more explicit: “The chief priests stirred up the people(ἀνέσεισαν), in order that he might release Barabbas unto them.” The double phrase sets forth, in vivid touches, the eager circulation to and fro among the crowds of the hot- headed and malignant priests and elders, who thus secured, not without some difficulty, a popular confirmation of their malignant scheme. “NOT THIS MAN, BUT BARABBAS!” was the repeated cry of a stupefied crowd. The memory of all the gracious words and life-giving actions of Jesus did not subdue the raging passion of their lust; they could neither see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts. The light that was in them was darkened. They preferred that a murderer should be granted to them. “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” is their verdict. Human power and popular feeling and corporate conscience reached the bottomless abyss of degradation. Jerusalem that killed the prophets would have none of him. Even human nature itself must bear the shame which by this cry for vengeance against goodness was branded upon its brow for ever. Through this daemonic hatred of the noblest and the best, manifested by the world, the world is itself condemned. “Who is he,” said John afterwards, “that overcometh the world? Even he who believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.” The world has made its Sesostris, its Tiberius, its Nero, its Antinous, into sons of God; the world has ever cried, “Not this Man”—not Jesus of Nazareth—but “Jesus Barabbas is son of God.” It will find out its mistake too late.
The synoptic narrative had already made the Church familiar with other details more or less connected with this incident, and which preceded the final sentence. John, who followed his Master as closely as possible, was acquainted with some interesting facts, full of suggestion, which throw additional light upon the conduct of Pilate, and bring forth some sublime traits in the character and bearing of our Lord. From the synoptists we learn that Pilate struggled for some considerable time to get his own way, and he remonstrated repeatedly with the people concerning their choice of Barabbas, the murderer and brigand, and their refusal to recall their malignant deliverance of Jesus to him as a malefactor. The bare idea that this gentle, silent, magnanimous Sufferer, bereft of his friends, mocked by Herod, deserted by his disciples, should have the faintest shadow of a claim to sovereignty in the only sense in which Pilate could understand such an idea, revolted his common sense. The message from his wife (Mat_27:19) had furthermore excited his semi-superstitious fears, and he maundered in a feeble fashion, “What shall I do with Jesus that is called Christ?”—”with him whom ye say is (accused of being) King of the Jews?” and for the first time the ominous and terrible cry is returned, “CRUCIFY HIM!” They do not ask that he be speared or beheaded, or treated like a convicted aspirant or usurper; nay, they will not be pacified until the doom of a common malefactor, the shameful death of a criminal slave, is meted out to him. Pilate is amazed, and even horrified, by the intensity of their spite and the cruelty of their hatred. Once and again Pilate said, “Why, what evil has he done? I found in him no proved occasion of any kind of death.” The tumult was rising every moment, and Pilate would have been glad to compromise the matter by sending Barabbas to the cross; and before he took the course dictated by the angry mob, he washed his hands in a basin of water, and proclaimed the fact that he had, and would take, no responsibility for the judicial murder to which they would hound him. “I am guiltless of the blood of this Man: see you to it” (Mat_27:24, Mat_27:25). Many commentators refer this proceeding of Pilate to the moment when he finally uttered the cursed verdict: Ibis ad crucem. Matthew’s account is much more concise at this point than John’s. Heathen writers had repeatedly scoffed at the notion of water washing away the guilt of blood. We can hardly suppose that Pilate meant more than a disdainful repudiation of any sympathy with the infuriated crowd (see Steinmeyer). This act, instead of appeasing, served to madden the fury of the populace, who shouted in bitter earnest, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children”—a sentence of their own, which rankled in their memories, and came back a few months afterwards with grim earnestness (Act_5:28). “Then,” says St. Matthew, “Pilate released Barabbas to them.” To do this, the governor would return to the Praetorinm, and Jesus was thus once more face to face with him. Probably the gorgeous robe which Herod had thrown over his fettered limbs had been taken from him; and then Pilate, bewildered, weak, with some ulterior motive of staving off the madness of the Jews, and satiating their inhuman thirst for blood, adopted another expedient.
1.Then Pilate therefore took Jesus. Pilate adheres to his original intention; but to the former ignominy he adds a second, hoping that, when Christ shall have been scourged, the Jews will be satisfied with this light chastisement. When he labors so earnestly, and without any success, we ought to recognize in this the decree of Heaven, by which Christ was appointed to death. Yet his innocence is frequently attested by the testimony of the judge, in order to assure us that he was free from all sin, and that he was substituted as a guilty person in the room of others, and bore the punishment due to the sins of others. We see also in Pilate a remarkable example of a trembling conscience. He acquits Christ with his mouth, and acknowledges that there is no guilt in him, and yet inflicts punishment on him, as if he were guilty. Thus, they who have not so much courage as to defend, with unshaken constancy, what is right, must be driven hither and thither, and led to adopt opposite and conflicting opinions.
We all condemn Pilate; and yet, it is shameful to relate that there are so many Pilates in the world, who scourge Christ, not only in his members, but also in his doctrine. There are many who, for the purpose of saving the life of those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, constrain them wickedly to deny Christ. What is this, but to expose Christ to ridicule, that he may lead a dishonorable life? Others select and approve of certain parts of the Gospel, and yet tear the whole Gospel to pieces. They think that they have done exceedingly well, if they have corrected a few gross abuses. It would be better that the doctrine should be buried for a time, than that it should be scourged in this manner, for it would spring up again ill spite of the devil and of tyrants; but nothing is more difficult than to restore it to its purity after having been once corrupted.
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. The force of the “therefore” may be seen in the foregoing observations (see especially Luk_23:23-25). He obviously fancied that the sight of their victim’s utter humiliation, his reduction to the lowest possible position, would sate their burning rage. Scourging was the ordinary preliminary of crucifixion, and it might be regarded as Pilate’s verdict, or the conclusion of the whole matter. Roman and Greek historians confirm the custom (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ Joh_5:11.1; ‘Bell. Jud.,’ Joh_2:14. 9; comp. Mat_20:19; Luk_18:33) of scourging before crucifixion. It may have had a twofold motive—one to glut the desire of inflicting physical torment and ignominy, and another allied to the offer of anodyne, to hasten the final sufferings of the cross. But the governor clearly thought that he might, by first humoring the populace, in releasing Barabbas from his confinement, and then reducing to a political absurdity the charge of treason against Caesar, save the suffering Prisoner from further wrong. The morbid suggestion of a mind accustomed to gladiatorial shows, and to the sudden changes of feeling which ran through the amphitheatres at the sight of blood, not only reveals the incapacity of Pilate to understand the difference between right and wrong, but proves that he had not sounded the depth of Jewish fanaticism, nor understood the people he had been ordered to coerce. John uses the word ἐμαστι ́γωσεν, a purely Greek word. Matthew and Mark, who refer to the scourging which preceded Christ’s being led to Calvary, use another official and technical word φραγελλώσας (identifiable with the Latin word flagellans). This does not require us to believe in two scourgings. Matthew and Mark simply refer to the scourging, which had been arbitrarily and informally inflicted, as John informs us, before the condemnation was pronounced. The Roman punishment flagellis inflicted hideous torture. “It was executed upon slaves with thin elm rods or straps having leaden balls or sharply pointed bones attached, and was delivered on the bent, bare, and tense back.” The victim was fastened to a pillar for the-purpose, the like to which has actually been found by Sir C. Warren in a subterranean cavern, on the site of what Mr. Ferguson regards as the Tower of Antonia (Westcott). The flagellation usually brought blood with the first stroke, and reduced the back to a fearful state of raw and quivering flesh. Strong men often succumbed under it, while the indignity of such a proceeding in this case must have cut far deeper into the awful sanctuary of the Sufferer’s soul.
2.And the soldiers, platting a crown of thorns. This was unquestionably done by the authority of Pilate, in order to affix a mark of infamy on the Son of God, for having made himself a king; and that in order to satisfy the rage of the Jews, as if he had been convinced that the accusations which they brought against Christ were well founded. Yet the wickedness and insolence of the soldiers is indulged more freely than had been ordered by the judge; as ungodly men eagerly seize on the opportunity of doing evil whenever it is offered to them. But we see here the amazing cruelty of the Jewish nation, whose minds are not moved to compassion by so piteous a spectacle; but all this is directed by God, in order to reconcile the world to himself by the death of his Son.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
2. And the soldiers] Herod and his troops (Luk_23:11) had set an example which the Roman soldiers were ready enough to follow. Pilate countenances the brutality as aiding his own plan of satisfying Jewish hatred with something less than death. The soldiers had inflicted the scourging; for Pilate, being only Procurator, would have no lictors.
a crown of thorns] The context seems to shew that this was in mockery of a royal crown rather than of a victor’s wreath. The plant is supposed to be the thorny nâbk, with flexible branches, and leaves like ivy, abundant in the Jordan valley and round about Jerusalem.
a purple robe] S. Mark has ‘purple,’ S. Matthew ‘scarlet,’ S. Luke is silent. ‘Purple’ with the ancients was a vague term for bright rich colour and would be used of crimson as well as of violet. The robe was a military chlamys, or paludamentum, perhaps one of Pilate’s cast-off cloaks. The garment in which Herod had mocked Jesus was probably white. Comp. 1Ma_8:14; 1Ma_10:20; 1Ma_10:62. The scourging and mockery were very possibly visible to the Jews outside.
Pilate then allowed the wounded and bruised man to be yet further and cruelly insulted by the Roman soldiers, who delighted in cruel play and coarse scorn. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe. The “gorgeous robe” £ which had been put upon Jesus by Herod had been probably taken’ from him before he was brought the second time into the Praetorium, and necessarily before his scourging. Now, though it is called a “purple robe” by John, it was probably a cast-off toga of the Herodian court, in all likelihood it was the same garment which was thrown again around his fettered limbs, his bowed and bleeding form. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns; in imitation of the victor’s wreath at a “triumph,” rather than the coronet or diadem of a king. The material is believed by Winer, Hug, Luthardt, and Godet to be the Lycium spinosum, often found at Jerusalem, not the acanthus, whose leaves decorate our Corinthian columns. It is of flexible stem, and would be soon woven into a wreath, the spikes of which, when it was placed around that majestic head, would be driven into the flesh, and produce great agony.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
3. And said] The best authorities add a graphic touch not given by the Synoptists; and they kept coming unto Him and saying. We see each soldier coming up in turn to offer his mock homage.
Hail, King of the Jews] Like the Procurator, they mock the Jews as well as their Victim.
smote him with their hands] Literally, gave Him blows, but whether with a rod, as the root of the word implies, or with the hand, as is more probable, we are uncertain (see on Joh_18:22). The old Latin version adds in faciem.
They kept on coming to him, and saying to him, in sportive mockery of his supposed Kingship, and utter scorn of the nation whose Messianic hope they derided, Hail, King of the Jews! They did a sham obeisance to him, having elected him, as Roman guards often did, an “imperator” on the field of battle. The offerings which they presented to him were not the kiss of homage, but ῥαπι ́ σματα. They kept on offering him blows on the face, strokes with the hand or with rods (cf. Joh_18:22, note). Hengstenberg, recalling here (Mat_27:29) that they put a reed in his hand, symbol of a scepter, supposes that he refused to hold it, in consequence of which they took it from him, and smote him with it. The awful indignity was a wondrous prophecy. Nay, from that very hour he began to reign. That crown of thorns has been more lasting than any royal diadem. Those cruel insults have been the title-deeds of his imperial sway, by which he has mastered the nations. He was wounded, bruised, for the iniquities of us all. The representatives of the outside world thus share expressly in the shame and ban by which the Hebrew theocracy is crushed, and the prince of this world is judged. “They know not what they do;” but Jew and Roman are guilty before God.
And Pilate, with grim insouciance, allows the mockery to take place, and then, with his poor derided sham-king at his side, he went forth again from the Praetorium to the public seat, where he kept up the conflict with the accusers and the ever-gathering crowd, and saith to them, with more of passion than before, imagining that this pitiable caricature of a king would reduce the cry of “Crucify him!” into some more moderate and less preposterous demand. Behold, I lead him forth to you, crowned, but bleeding, robed as a king, but humiliated to a condition worse than a slave, that ye may know that I find no crime in him; literally, no charge; i.e. no “crime.” Pilate rims renews and varies his testimony to the character of the Holy One! He makes another fruitless appeal to the humanity and justice of the maddened mob. But what a revelation of Pilate’s own weakness and shame! He can find no fault, but has connived at, nay, ordered, the worst part of this atrocious punishment. Keim would have us think that Pilate’s anxiety to save a Jew is a mere invention made by the second-century fabricator. There is however, nothing incompatible with a Roman official’s anxiety not to commit a judicial murder, for his own sake, and perhaps for the honor of his order. The hypothesis is irrational that the entire representation of Pilate’s desire to screen or save Jesus from the malice of the Jews was a device of the author, due to his Gentile nationality and proclivities, anxious to put even the Roman officials in the best possible light. Surely Christians had no temptation to mitigate their judgments upon Rome at the time of the persecution under Marcus Antoninus. Thoma, like Strauss, finds the basis of the representation in the prophetic types of Isa_53:1-12. and Psa_22:1-31.
Jesus then came forth, at Pilate’s order, into some prominent position, wearing (φορέω, not φέρω), as a regular costume, the thorny crown, and the purple robe, and he (Pilate, from his judgment-seat) saith to them, as this hateful and tragic melodrama was being enacted, Behold the Man! ECCE HOMO! This was, doubtless, said to mitigate or allay their ferocity. “Let his simple humanity plead with you! After this surely you can desire no more.” “The Man,” rather than “the King.” As Caiaphas did not know the enormous significance of his own dictum (Joh_11:50), so Pilate, from his purely secular position, did not appreciate the world-wide meaning of his own words. He did not know that he had at his side the Man of men, the perfect veritable Man, the unattainable Ideal of all humanity realized. He did not anticipate that that crown of thorns, that robe of simulated royalty, that sign of bloody agony, and these insults borne with sublime patience and ineffable love, were even then lifting Jesus to the throne of eternal memory and universal dominion; nor how his own words would be enshrined in art, and continue to the end of time a crystallization of the deepest emotion of the Church of God. …
…But the appeal to humanity was vain, and Pilate’s momentary sentiment failed of its end. Not a voice in his favor broke the silence; but—
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Joh_19:4-5. And Pilate went out again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him out to you, that ye may perceive that I find no crime in him. Jesus therefore came forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And he saith unto them, Behold, the man! The difference between thesituation here and that at chap. Joh_18:39 does not lie somuch in the actual words in which Pilate proclaims the innocence of Jesus, although it is possible that the change of order is not a matter of entire indifference. It lies rather in the fact that on the former occasion he left Jesus in the palace, and came out alone to the Jews with his verdict of acquittal; while here heleads Jesus forth, exhibiting such a bearing towards Him that the Jews may themselves perceive that he considers Him to be innocent. It is further evident from the words of Joh_19:8, ‘he was the more afraid,’ that a mysterious awe had already taken possession of his soul, an awe increased no doubt by the message of his wife (Mat_27:19) which had just before reached him. In his words ‘Behold, the man!’ we have a clear trace of the sympathy and pity existing in his breast. He speaks of the ‘man,’ not of the ‘king.’ It is the human sufferer to whom he draws attention, one whose sufferings and whole aspect would have melted anyheart not dehumanised by personal envy or that fierce spirit of revenge which has marked ecclesiastical fanaticism in every age. So far, however, as he expected to touch the hearts of the Jews by the spectacle presented to them, he is doomed to be disappointed.
6.Take you him. He did not wish to deliver Christ into their hands, or to abandon him to their fury; only he declares that he will not be their executioner. This is evident from the reason immediately added, when he says that he finds no guilt in him; as if he had said, that he will never be persuaded to shed innocent blood for their gratification. That it is only the priests and officers who demand that he shall be crucified, is evident from the circumstance that the madness of the people was not so great, except so far as those bellows contributed afterwards to kindle it.
They cried out, saying, Crucify him … – The view of the Saviour’s meekness only exasperated them the more. They had resolved on his death; and as they saw Pilate disposed to acquit him, they redoubled their cries, and endeavored to gain by tumult, and clamor, and terror, what they saw they could not obtain by justice. When men are determined on evil, they cannot be reasoned with. Every argument tends to defeat their plans, and they press on in iniquity with the more earnestness in proportion as sound reasons are urged to stay their course. Thus sinners go in the way of wickedness down to death. They make up in firmness of purpose what they lack in reason. They are more fixed in their plans in proportion as God faithfully warns them and their friends admonish them.
Take ye him … – These are evidently the words of a man weary with their importunity and with the subject, and yet resolved not to sanction their conduct. It was not the act of a judge delivering him up according to the forms of the law, for they did not understand it so. It was equivalent to this: “I am satisfied of his innocence, and shall not pronounce the sentence of death. If you are bent on his ruin – if you are determined to put to death an innocent man – if my judgment does not satisfy you – take him and put him to death on your own responsibility, and take the consequences. It cannot be done with my consent, nor in the due form of law; and if done, it must be by you, without authority, and in the face of justice.” See Mat_27:24.
7.We have a law. They mean that, in proceeding against Christ, they do what is right, and are not actuated by hatred or sinful passion; for they perceived that Pilate had indirectly reproved them. Now, they speak as in the presence of a man who was ignorant of the law; as if they had said, “We are permitted to live after our own manner, and our religion does not suffer any man to boast of being the Son of God. ” Besides, this accusation was not altogether void of plausibility, but they erred grievously in the application of it. The general doctrine was undoubtedly true, that it was not lawful for men to assume any honor which is due to God, and that they who claimed for themselves what is peculiar to God alone deserved to be put to death. But the source of their error related to the person of Christ, because they did not consider what are the titles given by Scripture to the Messiah, from which they might easily have learned that he was the Son of God, and did not even deign to inquire whether or not Jesus was the Messiah whom God had formerly promised.
We see, then, how they drew a false conclusion from a true principle, for they reason badly. This example warns us to distinguish carefully between a general doctrine and the application of it, for there are many ignorant and unsteady persons who reject the very principles of Scripture, if they have once been deceived by the semblance of truth; and such licentiousness makes too great progress in the world every day. Let us, therefore, remember that we ought to guard against imposition, so that principles which are true may remain in all their force, and that the authority of Scripture may not be diminished.
On the other hand, we may easily find a reply to wicked men, who falsely and improperly allege the testimony of Scripture, and the principles which they draw from it, to support their bad designs; just as the Papists, when they extol in lofty terms the authority of the Church, bring forward nothing about which all the children of God are not agreed. They maintain that the Church is the mother of believers, that she is the pillar of truth, that she ought to be heard, that she is guided by the Holy Spirit. All this we ought to admit, but when they wish to appropriate to themselves all the authority that is due to the Church, they wickedly, and with sacrilegious presumption, seize what does not at all belong to them. For we must inquire into the grounds of what they assume as true, that they deserve the title of The Church; and here they utterly fail. In like manner, when they exercise furious cruelty against all the godly, they do so on this pretence, that they have been ordained to defend the faith and peace of the Church. But when we examine the matter more closely, we plainly see that there is nothing which they have less at heart than the defense of true doctrine, that nothing affects them less than a care about peace and harmony, but that they only fight to uphold their own tyranny. They who are satisfied with general principles, and do not attend to the circumstances, imagine that the Papists do right in attacking us; but the investigation of the matter quickly dissipates that smoke by which they deceive the simple.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
7. We have a law] The Jews answer Pilate’s taunt by a plea hitherto kept in the background. He may think lightly of the seditious conduct of Jesus, but as a Procurator he is bound by Roman precedent to pay respect to the law of subject nationalities. He has challenged them to take the law into their own hands; let him hear what their law is.
by our law] Rather, according to the law; ‘of us’ is not genuine. They refer to Lev_24:16.
the Son of God] Omit ‘the.’ Pilate had said, ‘Behold the Man!’ The Jews retort, ‘He made Himself Son of God.’ Comp. Joh_5:18, Joh_10:33. They answer his appeal to their compassion by an appeal to his fears.
Because he made himself the Son of God (hoti huion theou heauton epoiēsen). Here at last the Sanhedrin give the real ground for their hostility to Jesus, one of long standing for probably three years (Joh_5:18) and the one on which the Sanhedrin voted the condemnation of Jesus (Mar_14:61-64; Matt 27:23-66), but even now they do not mention their own decision to Pilate, for they had no legal right to vote Christ’s death before Pilate’s consent which they now have secured.
We have a law – The law respecting blasphemy, Lev_24:16; Deu_13:1-5. They had arraigned Jesus on that charge before the Sanhedrin, and condemned him for it, Mat_26:63-65. But this was not the charge on which they had arraigned him before Pilate. They had accused him of sedition, Luk_23:2. On this charge they were now convinced that they could not get Pilate to condemn him. He declared him innocent. Still bent on his ruin, and resolved to gain their purpose, they now, contrary to their first intention, adduced the original accusation on which they had already pronounced him guilty. If they could not obtain his condemnation as a rebel, they now sought it as a blasphemer, and they appealed to Pilate to sanction what they believed was required in their law. Thus, to Pilate himself it became more manifest that he was innocent, that they had attempted to deceive him, and that the charge on which they had arraigned him was a mere pretence to obtain his sanction to their wicked design.
Made himself – Declared himself, or claimed to be.
The Son of God – The law did not forbid this, but it forbade blasphemy, and they considered the assumption of this title as the same as blasphemy Joh_10:30, Joh_10:33, Joh_10:36, and therefore condemned him.
8.He was the more afraid. These words may be explained in two ways. The first is, that Pilate dreaded lest some blame should be imputed to him, if a tumult arose, because he had not condemned Christ. The second is, that, after having heard the name of the Son of God, his mind was moved by religion. This second view is confirmed by what immediately follows:
9.And he entered again into the hall, and said to Jesus; Whence Art Thou? It is evident from this that he was in a state of perplexity and anguish, because he was afraid that he would be punished for sacrilege, if he laid his hand on the Son of God It ought to be observed that, when he asks whence Christ is, he does not inquire about his country, but the meaning is, as if he had said, “Art thou a man born on the earth, or art thou some god?” The interpretation which I give to this passage, therefore, is, that Pilate, struck with the fear of God, was in perplexity and doubt as to what he ought to do; for he saw, on the one hand, the excitement of a mutiny, and, on the other hand, conscience held him bound not to offend God for the sake of avoiding danger.
This example is highly worthy of observation. Though the countenance of Christ was so disfigured, yet, as soon as Pilate hears the name of God, he is seized with the fear of violating the majesty of God in a man who was utterly mean and despicable. If reverence for God had so much influence on an irreligious man, must not they be worse than reprobate, who now judge of divine things in sport and jest, carelessly, and without any fear? for, indeed, Pilate is a proof that men have naturally a sentiment of religion, which does not suffer them to rush fearlessly in any direction they choose, when the question relates to divine things. This is the reason why I said that those who, in handling the doctrine of Scripture, are not more impressed with the majesty of God, than if they had been disputing about the shadow of an ass, are given up to a reprobate mind, (Rom_1:28.) Yet they will one day feel to their destruction, what veneration is due to the name of God, which they now treat with such disdainful and outrageous mockery. It is shocking to relate how haughtily the Papists condemn the plain and ascertained truth of God, and with what cruelty they shed innocent blood. Whence, I beseech you, comes that drunken stupidity, but because they do not recollect that they have anything to do with God?
And Jesus gave him no answer. We ought not to think it strange that Jesus makes no reply; at least, if we keep in mind what I have formerly mentioned, that he did not stand before Pilate to plead his own cause, — as is customary with persons accused who are desirous to be acquitted, — but rather to suffer condemnation; for it was proper that he should be condemned, when he appeared in our room. This is the reason why he makes no defense; and yet Christ’s silence is not inconsistent with what Paul says, Remember that Christ, before Pilate, made a good confession, (1Ti_6:13;) for there he maintained the faith of the Gospel, as far as was necessary, and his death was nothing else than the sealing of the doctrine delivered by him. Christ left nothing undone of what was necessary to make a lawful confession, but he kept silence as to asking an acquittal. Besides, there was some danger that Pilate would acquit Christ as one of the pretended gods, as Tiberius wished to rank him among the gods of the Romans. Justly, therefore, does Christ, by his silence, frown on this foolish superstition.
And he entered the Praetorium again (Jesus following him), and he saith to Jesus, Whence art thou? but Jesus gave him no answer. Almost all commentators reject the old explanation of the question of Pilate given by Paulus, that he simply asked Jesus of his birthplace or his home. The governor was disturbed, and ready to suspect that he had on his hands some supernatural Being whom no cross could destroy—some mysterious half-human, half-Divine creature, such as filled the popular literature; and, without any spiritual insight on his own side, he enticed Jesus to give him his confidence, and entrust to his keeping some of the secret of his origin, and the source of the bitter antagonism to his claims. There was fear, curiosity, and great desire for his own sake to save the suffering Man from the clutches of his enemies. “Whence art thou? Hast thou indeed made this claim? Best thou call thyself Son of God? that God is thy proper Father; that thou art coming in the glory of heaven; that thou, in thy purple robe and bleeding form, art already seated on thy throne of judgment?” Surely all this was really conveyed by the question, for we cannot suppose that “the Jews” confined themselves to the laconic recital of the charge as here recorded. The silence of Jesus is very impressive, and we, in our ignorance, can only vaguely say what it meant. Very numerous explanations are offered. Luthardt’s idea, that Christ would not give an answer which would have the effect of preventing Pilate, in his agitated state, from giving the order for his crucifixion, is stagey and unreal. Moreover, it is bound up with very questionable ethic, and suggests that Jesus is answerable for the awful sin of Pilate, from which, by a word, he might have saved him. We admit that at any moment the Lord could, if he had chosen, have smitten his foes with blindness, or delivered himself from their malice by passing through them (cf. Joh_12:1-50 :59). They would all have fallen to the earth if he had glanced at them as he had done upon the Roman guard in Gethsemane upon that very band of men who were now so busy in wiping out the stain of their momentary panic. On other occasions, when his hour of self-deliverance and self-devotion to the Father’s will had not arrived, he discomfited his enemies; but now his hour had come, and he did not shrink. All this is true, but it does not account for the refusal to answer a question like this. Doubtless the silence was as expressive as speech, and even less likely to be misunderstood. He could not have denied that he was “Son of God.” He could not have affirmed it without leading Pilate to put human and heathen notions into it. But could not he, who is infinite wisdom incarnate, have given an answer which would have avoided both dangers? That, however, is practically what he did effect. The prophetic picture had foretold of him, that “like a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth;” and the previous silences of Jesus before Annas, and before the false witnesses, before Caiaphas, and Pilate himself, and before Herod, are all governed by the same rule—a refusal to save himself from malignant falsity, or tricky design, or conspicuously lying charges; but when challenged to say whether he was the Christ, whether he was the Son of God, whether he was a King, he gave the answers needed. There was some likeness between the spirit of Herod, Caiaphas, and the false witnesses, and of Pilate’s “Whence art thou?” which did not deserve an affirmative answer. The governor, who had scourged and insulted an apparently defenseless man, at the very moment when he was proclaimed innocent, and now was afraid of what he had done, came into the category of the slayers of the silent Lamb. But to the next inquiry, which went down to the depths of his heart, and revealed the utter unspirituality and self-ignorance which needed response, a wondrous reply was given.
Whence art thou? – See the notes at Joh_7:27. Pilate knew that he was a Galilean, but this question was asked to ascertain whether he claimed to be the Son of God – whether a mere man, or whether divine.
Jesus gave him no answer – Probably for the following reasons:
1. Jesus had already told Pilate Jesus’ design, and the nature of his kingdom, Joh_18:36-37.
2. Jesus had said enough to satisfy Pilate of Jesus’ innocence. Of that Pilate was convinced. Pilate’s duty was clear, and if he had had firmness to do it, he would not have asked this. Jesus, by his silence, therefore rebuked Pilate for his lack of firmness, and his unwillingness to do what his conscience told him was right.
3. It is not probable that Pilate would have understood Jesus if Jesus had declared to Pilate the truth about Jesus’ origin, and about his being the Son of God.
4. After what had been done – after he had satisfied Pilate of his innocence, and then had been beaten and mocked by his permission he had no reason to expect justice at his hands, and therefore properly declined to make any further defense. By this the prophecy Isa_53:7 was remarkably fulfilled.
10.Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee? This shows that the dread with which Pilate had been suddenly seized was transitory, and had no solid root; for now, forgetting all fear, he breaks out into haughty and monstrous contempt of God. He threatens Christ, as if there had not been a Judge in heaven; but this must always happen with irreligious men, that, shaking off the fear of God, they quickly return to their natural disposition. Hence also we infer, that it is not without good reason that the heart of man is called deceitful, (Jer_17:9;) for, though some fear of God dwells in it, there likewise comes from it mere impiety. Whoever, then, is not regenerated by the Spirit of God, though he pretend for a time to reverence the majesty of God, will quickly show, by opposite facts, that this fear was hypocritical.
Again, we see in Pilate an image of a proud man, who is driven to madness by his ambition; for, when he wishes to exalt his power, he deprives himself of all praise and reputation for justice. He acknowledges that Christ is innocent, and therefore he makes himself no better than a robber, when he boasts that he has power to cut his throat! Thus, wicked consciences, in which faith and the true knowledge of God do not reign, must necessarily be agitated, and there must be within them various feelings of the flesh, which contend with each other; and in this manner God takes signal vengeance on the pride of men, when they go beyond their limits, so as to claim for themselves infinite power. By condemning themselves for injustice, they stamp on themselves the greatest reproach and disgrace. No blindness, therefore, is greater than that of pride; and we need not wonder, since pride feels the hand of God, against which it strikes, to be armed with vengeance. Let us therefore remember, that we ought not rashly to indulge in foolish boastings, lest we expose ourselves to ridicule; and especially that those who occupy a high rank ought to conduct themselves modestly, and not to be ashamed of being subject to God and to his laws.
11.Thou wouldest have no power. Some explain this in a general sense, that nothing is done in the world but by the permission of God; as if Christ had said, that Pilate, though he thinks that he can do all things, will do nothing more than God permits. The statement is, no doubt, true, that this world is regulated by the disposal of God, and that, whatever may be the efforts of wicked men, still they cannot even move a finger but as the secret power of God directs. But I prefer the opinion of those who confine this passage to the office of the magistrate; for by these words Christ rebukes the foolish boasting of Pilate, in extolling himself, as if his power had not been from God; as if he had said, Thou claimest every thing for thyself’, as if thou hadst not to render an account one day to God; but it was not without His providence that thou wast made a judge. Consider, then, that His heavenly throne is far higher than thy tribunal. It is impossible to find any admonition better fitted to repress the insolence of those who rule over others, that they may not abuse their authority. The father imagines that he may do what he pleases towards his children, the husband towards his wife, the master towards his servants, the prince towards his people, unless when they look to God, who hath determined that their authority shall be limited by a fixed rule.
Therefore he who delivered me to thee. Some think that this declares the Jews to be more guilty than Pilate, because, with wicked hatred and malicious treachery, they are enraged against an innocent man, that is, those of them who were private individuals, and not clothed with lawful authority. But I think that this circumstance renders their guilt more heinous and less excusable on another ground, that they constrain a divinely appointed government to comply with their lawless desires; for it is a monstrous sacrilege to pervert a holy ordinance of God for promoting any wickedness. The robber, who, with his own hand, cuts the throat of a wretched passenger, is justly held in abhorrence; but he who, under the forms of a judicial trial, puts to death an innocent man, is much more wicked. Yet Christ does not aggravate their guilt, for the purpose of extenuating that of Pilate; for he does not institute a comparison between him and them, but rather includes them all in the same condemnation, because they equally pollute a holy power. There is only this difference, that he makes direct attack on the Jews, but indirectly censures Pilate, who complies with their wicked desire.
11. Thou couldest] Or, wouldest. This is Christ’s last word to Pilate; a defence of the supremacy of God, and a protest against the claim of any human potentate to be irresponsible.
from above] i.e. from God. This even Pilate could understand: had Jesus said ‘from My Father’ he would have remained uninstructed. The point is not, that Pilate is an instrument ordained for the carrying out of God’s purposes (Act_2:23); he was such, but that is not the meaning here. Rather, that the possession and exercise of all authority is the gift of God; Joh_3:27; Rom_13:1-7 (see notes there). To interpret ‘from above’ of the higher tribunal of the Sanhedrin is quite inadequate. Comp. Joh_3:3; Joh_3:7; Joh_3:31; Jas_1:17; Jas_3:15; Jas_3:17, where the same adverb, anôthen, is used: see notes in each place.
therefore] Better, for this cause (Joh_12:18; Joh_12:27); comp. Joh_1:31, Joh_5:16; Joh_5:18, Joh_7:22, Joh_8:47.
he that delivered me unto thee] Caiaphas, the representative of the Sanhedrin and of the nation. The expression rendered ‘he that delivered’ is used in Joh_13:11, Joh_18:2; Joh_18:5 of Judas. But the addition ‘to thee’ shews that Judas is not meant; Judas had not betrayed Jesus to Pilate but to the Sanhedrin. The same verb is used of the Sanhedrin delivering Him to Pilate, Joh_18:35.
hath the greater sin] Because he had the opportunity of knowing Who Jesus was. Once more we have the expression, peculiar to S. John, ‘to have sin’ (Joh_9:41, Joh_15:22; Joh_15:24; 1Jn_1:8).
Thou wouldst not have authority against me of any kind, either judicial or actual, or both combined: thou wouldst hold no judicial position which I or others could recognize, nor wouldst thou have the faintest power to proceed against me unless, etc. Here our Lord points to the great doctrine which Paul afterwards expressed (Rom_13:1) about the powers that be, and hints that every circumstance and event which led to Pilate’s occupancy of that judgment-seat, or which in recent times had delivered up the people of the Lord to the authority of Rome, and prepared for the occupancy of the Praetorium by Pontius Pilate himself, was altogether beyond the range of his judge’s spontaneity and competency. Unless it were given thee from above (ἄνωθεν). He does not say, “from my Father,” or “from God”—phrases which would have been incomprehensible to a skeptical heathen; but “from above,” from that Divine providential source of all power which rules all. The Lord thus implies the Divine legitimation of the judicial rank of Pilate; and the fact that his continuous occupancy of it was a talent revocable in a moment by the hand that gave it, and that all the exercise of his so-called ἐξουσία was dependent on his supreme will. For this cause he that delivered me up to thee. Though Judas is continually described as παραδούς (Joh_18:2; Joh_13:2; Joh_11:21; Joh_12:4; Joh_6:64-71), yet we have already seen that the act of Judas had been endorsed by the people, and by the Sanhedrin, who now by their highest official representative had “delivered” him up to Pilate (Joh_18:35, note), betrayed him with murderous intention to the power which could not merely excommunicate, but could kill by judicial process. Our Lord may either refer to Caiaphas (Bengel, Meyer, Luthardt) or to the Sanhedrin and people as a whole (Godet). Hath greater sin. “Because the initiative has been taken by him, and irrespective of thee; because thy power, such as it is over me, is a Divine arrangement, made irrespective of thy will; and the whole of this proceeding has been forced upon thee against thy better judgment.” Nevertheless, he implies that Pilate has sinned: he was exercising his seeming judicial rights irrespective of justice. He had declared Jesus to be free from blame or charge in open court, but he had nevertheless submitted the innocent Sufferer to the utmost wrong; but he that delivered Christ-to Pilate had done so out of willful ignorance, and was sinning against light and knowledge. Caiaphas might have recognized Christ’s true Messiahship, and accepted his true claims, and bowed before him as the Sent of God, as the Son of the Blessed; but instead of this he had violated the law, and sacrificed the hope and spiritual independence of his own people, out of deference to the sacrosanct honors of his own order. Pilate’s consciousness of independence is rebuked, and his conscience appealed to, and the Lord, in this last word to his judge, claims to be his Suzerain, and awards to him his share of blame. Pilate said to the Jews, “I find no fault in him;” Jesus said to Pilate, “Thou hast committed a great sin, though there is another God-given ἔξουσια, which is more seriously and culpably trifled with than thine is: he that delivered me to thee hath committed a greater.”