Are you the King of the Jews?
I love the way John writes with such irony. The Jewish leaders won’t enter Pilate’s palace so they don’t get ceremonially unclean for the Passover; and yet they are manipulating the judicial system to kill the one who is the True Passover. If a Jew had to do business with someone like Pilate, they would take the hit of being temporarily unclean and go through the days of purification. But they would not want to miss the Passover. The Passover remembers when Israel was set free from Egypt, by the sacrifice of a lamb and its blood applied to their homes. Passover time is a poignant reminder for the Jews that they are now held in bondage by the Romans. The leaders will use that tension to do some political intrigue to secure a death penalty for Jesus as someone trying to overthrow the state.
The dominant theme of the last trial of Jesus is the kingdom and Jesus’ authority. Pilate straight up asks Jesus “are you the King of the Jews?”. Jesus in return asks a question – “is this your own idea or have others told you?”. If Pilate is asking in his role as Roman governor, it is about whether Jesus was setting up a rebel government. If he was merely asking because he had been primed by the Jewish leaders, then it is about him being a purely religious leader and not a direct threat to Rome.
Pilate susses that he has been manipulated – ‘Am I a Jew?… what have you done [to upset them]?’. Jesus then talks about the kingdom of God – a spiritual kingdom where His followers obey Jesus. God is about rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Jesus came to bring truth.
At the end of the trial Pilate was a cynical politician – what is truth? He thought it was relative, whatever Rome wanted it to be, whatever the majority wants, whatever would advance his political power and position. Pilate had found him not guilty, but he lacked the courage of his convictions.
The Jewish leaders (and a crowd in the other gospels) start baying for the release of Barabbas – an insurrectionist who had started a rebellion during a previous Passover to set the people free and had been arrested instead. Barabbas means “son of daddy”. So one son of daddy, Barabbas, gets substituted by the Son of Abba, Jesus, who will really set people free indeed.
Thank you Jesus for being our substitute, dying in our place! Amen