The Sinless Son of God on Trial – Part 1 (John 18:28-40)
By Andrew E. Courtis
The world has all sorts of opinions concerning Jesus Christ. With mixed views the world is constantly attempted to put Jesus on trial. Approaching a new section in the gospel of John, Jesus continues to be on trial by now he is presented to the civil authority, and that was Pontius Pilate. As Jesus is presented to Pilate to be tried, it becomes clear from this passage that Jesus is the sinless Son of God. This is demonstrated by the fact that He is the Sovereign Lord (18:28-40) and the Sacrificial Lamb (19:1-16). We will only consider the first fact in this sermon.
This is an important truth for us to grasp. The world will have all sorts of opinions concerning Jesus Christ. There will be distorted views of Christ from those who claim for follow the Lord, as there will be distorted views from those who would class themselves secular. It doesn’t matter what the world says about Jesus, the reality of who He is cannot be hidden.
1. JESUS IS THE SOVEREIGN LORD (18:28-40)
John skips over Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas the High Priest. From the other gospel accounts we learn that the council was seeking false testimonies again Him so that they could kill Him, but they found none (Matt. 26:59-60). At last some witnesses came forward and Jesus was charged with blasphemy. They spat on His face, struck Him and mocked. John picks up from that point and writes,
“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” (18:28).
The reference to “the governor’s headquarters” refers to the place where Pilate would carry out his business as governor while he was in Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate was a Roman governor in Judea for around 10 years (A.D. 26-36). Interestingly, the Jewish leaders refused to enter this Gentile building because they feared that they might be defiled, becoming ceremonially unclean thus preventing them from participating in the Passover meal. It is really sad to think that when it came to matters like this they would be so very particular and careful to obey God’s law, but when it came to the trial of Jesus they were corrupt and deceitful. This verse demonstrates the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. We must always examine ourselves before the Lord lest we too fall into this same trap of hypocrisy. It is not uncommon for someone who is legalistic to show obedience to some things while on the other hand secretly enter into others sins.
Now as they present Jesus to Pilate to be tried and condemned, we are going to see how this trial demonstrates the fact that Jesus is the Sovereign Lord. Two things will be clear in this passage; Jesus is sovereign Lord because of His prediction and His purpose.
Christ’s Prediction (18:27-32)
As the religious leaders were waiting outside with Jesus bound, John records what happens next,
So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (18:29-31).
As Pilate looks at Jesus standing before him, he reasons that this is a matter for the Jewish authorities and not something he needs to worry about. However, the religious leaders reveal that they wanted Him sentenced to death. If they could carry this out themselves, they would have stoned Him. However, because the Romans removed from the Jewish people the official right to carry out the death penalty, this was someone a Roman governor needed to approve.
At this point it looks like the opponents of Christ are in control. However, in the midst of a situation in which you have the religious leaders scheming, you have Jesus standing and watching His predictions perfectly and precisely unfold. John writes, “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (18:32). Jesus had earlier on predicted what of manner of death He would suffer “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). John tells us that He said this “to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (12:33). In the Law we are told “if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree” (Duet. 21:22) this individual is cursed by God (Duet. 21:23). What is significant about this is what Paul says about the death of Christ,
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
This means that Christ stood in our place bearing God’s judgment and wrath on our behalf. Jesus died on the cross not as the result of scheming, but so that He may be our substitute.
As Jesus is presented to Pilate, without saying anything at this stage it has been demonstrated that He is the Sovereign Lord because of His predictions.
Christ’s Purpose (18:33-40)
Luke tells us that the religious leaders accused Jesus of misleading the nation because He told people not to give tributes to Caesar and He claimed to be the Christ and the King (Luke 23:2). After hearing this accusation, Pilate invites Jesus into his headquarters and asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (18:33). In the Greek the word “you” is emphatic. It is as if Pilate looks Jesus up and down and is shocked that Jesus would be accused of a man claiming to be Israel’s new leader planning to overthrow Rome. Jesus gives Pilate the opportunity to carefully examine this question by asking, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (18:34). Pilate responds by saying, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” (18:35). The response Jesus gives is powerful and it reveals what His purpose was. Listen to the exchange with Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (18:36-37).
Jesus does not deny the charge of being a king; He simply reveals that His kingdom is not what others may think it is. The Kingdom of Christ is not sourced in this world. In these verses we learn two things about Christ’s kingdom. Firstly we see the character of Christ’s Kingdom. Because it is “not of this world” it is a spiritual kingdom.
Secondly, we learn something about the citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. They are those who hear His voice (18:37).
Jesus Christ is a king, but He is not a king of the world. He is the sinless Son of God who rules with perfect righteousness and grace.
Though Pilate can see with his own eyes that Jesus is not guilty of sin, he demonstrates that he cannot hear the truth. John records,
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. (18:38-40).
It is interesting that the name “Barabbas” means ‘son of the Father’. This crowd of people would rather have a robber released, instead of Jesus, the Son of the Eternal Father.
After this first series of questions what becomes clear is that Jesus is the sovereign Lord. In Matthew 27:22 Pilate asked the question, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” Knowing that Jesus is the Sovereign Lord, what will you do with Him? If you have not been forgiven of your sins, you can come to Christ today and trust Him alone for the forgiveness of your sins and you will be saved. If you already do trust in Christ, continue to love and treasure Him. Serve Him and listen to His voice in the Word of God. Take refuge in the fact that He is the sovereign Lord.