J O H N.
Though in the history hitherto this evangelist seems industriously to have declined the recording of such passages as had been related by the other evangelists, yet, when he comes to the sufferings and death of Christ, instead of passing them over, as one ashamed of his Master’s chain and cross, and looking upon them as the blemishes of his story, he repeats what had been before related, with considerable enlargements, as one that desired to know nothing but Christ and him crucified, to glory in nothing save in the cross of Christ. In the story of this chapter we have, I. The remainder of Christ’s trial before Pilate, which was tumultuous and confused, ver. 1-15. II. Sentence given, and execution done upon it, ver. 16-18. III. The title over his head, ver. 19-22. IV. The parting of his garment, ver. 23, 24. V. The care he took of his mother, ver. 25-27. VI. The giving him vinegar to drink, ver. 28, 29. VII. His dying word, ver. 30. VIII. The piercing of his side, ver. 31-37. IX. The burial of his body, ver. 38-42. O that in meditating on these things we may experimentally know the power of Christ’s death, and the fellowship of his sufferings!
1 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. 2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, 3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. 4 Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. 5 Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! 6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. 7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. 8 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; 9 And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? 11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. 12 And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar. 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Cæsar.
Here is a further account of the unfair trial which they gave to our Lord Jesus. The prosecutors carrying it on with great confusion among the people, and the judge with great confusion in his own breast, between both the narrative is such as is not easily reduced to method; we must therefore take the parts of it as they lie.
I. The judge abuses the prisoner, though he declares him innocent, and hopes therewith to pacify the prosecutors; wherein his intention, if indeed it was good, will by no means justify his proceedings, which were palpably unjust.
1. He ordered him to be whipped as a criminal, v. 1. Pilate, seeing the people so outrageous, and being disappointed in his project of releasing him upon the people’s choice, took Jesus, and scourged him, that is, appointed the lictors that attended him to do it. Bede is of opinion that Pilate scourged Jesus himself with his own hands, because it is said, He took him and scourged him, that it might be done favourably. Matthew and Mark mention his scourging after his condemnation, but here it appears to have been before. Luke speaks of Pilate’s offering to chastise him, and let him go, which must be before sentence. This scourging of him was designed only to pacify the Jews, and in it Pilate put a compliment upon them, that he would take their word against his own sentiments so far. The Roman scourgings were ordinarily very severe, not limited, as among the Jews, to forty stripes; yet this pain and shame Christ submitted to for our sakes.
(1.) That the scripture might be fulfilled, which spoke of his being stricken, smitten, and afflicted, and the chastisement of our peace being upon him (Isa. liii. 5), of his giving his back to the smiters (Isa. l. 6), of the ploughers ploughing upon his back, Ps. cxxix. 3. He himself likewise had foretold it, Matt. xx. 19; Mark x. 34; Luke xviii. 33.
(2.) That by his stripes we might be healed, 1 Pet. ii. 4. We deserved to have been chastised with whips and scorpions, and beaten with many stripes, having known our Lord’s will and not done it; but Christ underwent the stripes for us, bearing the rod of his Father’s wrath, Lam. iii. 1. Pilate’s design in scourging him was that he might not be condemned, which did not take effect, but intimated what was God’s design, that his being scourged might prevent our being condemned, we having fellowship in his sufferings, and this did take effect: the physician scourged, and so the patient healed.
(3.) That stripes, for his sake, might be sanctified and made easy to his followers; and they might, as they did, rejoice in that shame (Acts v. 41; xvi. 22, 25), as Paul did, who was in stripes above measure, 2 Cor. xi. 23. Christ’s stripes take out the sting of theirs, and alter the property of them. We are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world, 1 Cor. xi. 32.
2. He turned him over to his soldiers, to be ridiculed and made sport with as a fool (v. 2, 3): The soldiers, who were the governor’s life-guard, put a crown of thorns upon his head; such a crown they thought fittest for such a king; they put on him a purple robe, some old threadbare coat of that colour, which they thought good enough to be the badge of his royalty; and they complimented him with, Hail, king of the Jews (like people like king), and then smote him with their hands.
(1.) See here the baseness and injustice of Pilate, that he would suffer one whom he believed an innocent person, and if so an excellent person, to be thus abused and trampled on by his own servants. Those who are under the arrest of the law ought to be under the protection of it; and their being secured is to be their security. But Pilate did this,
[1.] To oblige his soldiers’ merry humour, and perhaps his own too, notwithstanding the gravity one might have expected in a judge. Herod, as well as his men of war, had just before done the same, Luke xxiii. 11. It was as good as a stage-play to them, now that it was a festival time; as the Philistines made sport with Samson.
[2.] To oblige the Jews’ malicious humour, and to gratify them, who desired that all possible disgrace might be done to Christ, and the utmost indignities put upon him.
(2.) See here the rudeness and insolence of the soldiers, how perfectly lost they were to all justice and humanity, who could thus triumph over a man in misery, and one that had been in reputation for wisdom and honour, and never did any thing to forfeit it. But thus hath Christ’s holy religion been basely misrepresented, dressed up by bad men at their pleasure, and so exposed to contempt and ridicule, as Christ was here.
[1.] They clothe him with a mock-robe, as if it were a sham and a jest, and nothing but the product of a heated fancy and a crazed imagination. And as Christ is here represented as a king in conceit only, so is his religion as a concern in conceit only, and God and the soul, sin and duty, heaven and hell, are with many all chimeras.
[2.] They crown him with thorns; as if the religion of Christ were a perfect penance, and the greatest pain and hardship in the world; as if to submit to the control of God and conscience were to thrust one’s head into a thicket of thorns; but this is an unjust imputation; thorns and snares are in the way of the froward, but roses and laurels in religion’s ways.
(3.) See here the wonderful condescension of our Lord Jesus in his sufferings for us. Great and generous minds can bear any thing better than ignominy, any toil, any pain, any loss, rather than reproach; yet this the great and holy Jesus submitted to for us. See and admire,
[1.] The invincible patience of a sufferer, leaving us an example of contentment and courage, evenness, and easiness of spirit, under the greatest hardships we may meet with in the way of duty.
[2.] The invincible love and kindness of a Saviour, who not only cheerfully and resolutely went through all this, but voluntarily undertook it for us and for our salvation. Herein he commended his love, that he would not only die for us, but die as a fool dies. First, He endured the pain; not the pangs of death only, though in the death of the cross these were most exquisite; but, as if these were too little, he submitted to those previous pains. Shall we complain of a thorn in the flesh, and of being buffeted by affliction, because we need it to hide pride from us, when Christ humbled himself to bear those thorns in the head, and those buffetings, to save and teach us? 2 Cor. xii. 7. Secondly, He despised the shame, the shame of a fool’s coat, and the mock-respect paid him, with, Hail, king of the Jews. If we be at any time ridiculed for well-doing, let us not be ashamed, but glorify God, for thus we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. He that bore these sham honours was recompensed with real honours, and so shall we, if we patiently suffer shame for him.
II. Pilate, having thus abused the prisoner, presents him to the prosecutors, in hope that they would now be satisfied, and drop the prosecution, v. 4, 5. Here he proposes two things to their consideration:–
1. That he had not found any thing in him which made him obnoxious to the Roman government (v. 4): I find no fault in him; oudemian aitian heurisko—I do not find in him the least fault, or cause of accusation. Upon further enquiry, he repeats the declaration he had made, ch. xviii. 38. Hereby he condemns himself; if he found no fault in him, why did he scourge him, why did he suffer him to be abused? None ought to suffer ill but those that do ill; yet thus many banter and abuse religion, who yet, if they be serious, cannot but own they find no fault in it. If he found no fault in him, why did he bring him out to his prosecutors, and not immediately release him, as he ought to have done? If Pilate had consulted his own conscience only, he would neither have scourged Christ nor crucified him; but, thinking to trim the matter, to please the people by scourging Christ, and save his conscience by not crucifying him, behold he does both; whereas, if he had at first resolved to crucify him, he need not have scourged him. It is common for those who think to keep themselves from greater sins by venturing upon less sins to run into both.
2. That he had done that to him which would make him the less dangerous to them and to their government, v. 5. He brought him out to them, wearing the crown of thorns, his head and face all bloody, and said, “Behold the man whom you are so jealous of,” intimating that though his having been so popular might have given them some cause to fear that his interest in the country would lessen theirs, yet he had taken an effectual course to prevent it, by treating him as a slave, and exposing him to contempt, after which he supposed the people would never look upon him with any respect, nor could he ever retrieve his reputation again. Little did Pilate think with what veneration even these sufferings of Christ would in after ages be commemorated by the best and greatest of men, who would glory in that cross and those stripes which he thought would have been to him and his followers a perpetual and indelible reproach.
(1.) Observe here our Lord Jesus shows himself dressed up in all the marks of ignominy. He came forth, willing to be made a spectacle, and to be hooted at, as no doubt he was when he came forth in this garb, knowing that he was set for a sign that should be spoken against, Luke ii. 34. Did he go forth thus bearing our reproach? Let us go forth to him bearing his reproach, Heb. xiii. 13.
(2.) How Pilate shows him: Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man. He saith unto them: so the original is; and, the immediate antecedent being Jesus, I see no inconvenience in supposing these to be Christ’s own words; he said, “Behold the man against whom you are so exasperated.” But some of the Greek copies, and the generality of the translators, supply it as we do, Pilate saith unto them, with a design to appease them, Behold the man; not so much to move their pity, Behold a man worthy your compassion, as to silence their jealousies, Behold a man not worthy your suspicion, a man from whom you can henceforth fear no danger; his crown is profaned, and cast to the ground, and now all mankind will make a jest of him. The word however is very affecting: Behold the man. It is good for every one of us, with an eye of faith, to behold the man Christ Jesus in his sufferings. Behold this king with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him, the crown of thorns, Cant. iii. 11. “Behold him, and be suitably affected with the sight. Behold him, and mourn because of him. Behold him, and love him; be still looking unto Jesus.“
III. The prosecutors, instead of being pacified, were but the more exasperated, v. 6, 7.
1. Observe here their clamour and outrage. The chief priests, who headed the mob, cried out with fury and indignation, and their officers, or servants, who must say as they said, joined with them in crying, Crucify him, crucify him. The common people perhaps would have acquiesced in Pilate’s declaration of his innocency, but their leaders, the priests, caused them to err. Now by this it appears that their malice against Christ was,
(1.) Unreasonable and most absurd, in that they offer not to make good their charges against him, nor to object against the judgment of Pilate concerning him; but, though he be innocent, he must be crucified.
(2.) It was insatiable and very cruel. Neither the extremity of his scourging, nor his patience under it, nor the tender expostulations of the judge, could mollify them in the least; no, nor could the jest into which Pilate had turned the cause, put them into a pleasant humour.
(3.) It was violent and exceedingly resolute; they will have it their own way, and hazard the governor’s favour, the peace of the city, and their own safety, rather than abate of the utmost of their demands. Were they so violent in running down our Lord Jesus, and in crying, Crucify him, crucify him? and shall not we be vigorous and zealous in advancing his name, and in crying, Crown him, Crown him? Did their hatred of him sharpen their endeavours against him? and shall not our love to him quicken our endeavours for him and his kingdom?
2. The check Pilate gave to their fury, still insisting upon the prisoner’s innocency: “Take you him and crucify him, if he must be crucified.” This is spoken ironically; he knew they could not, they durst not, crucify him; but it is as if he should say, “You shall not make me a drudge to your malice; I cannot with a safe conscience crucify him.” A good resolve, if he would but have stuck to it. He found no fault in him, and therefore should not have continued to parley with the prosecutors. Those that would be safe from sin should be deaf to temptation. Nay, he should have secured the prisoner from their insults. What was he armed with power for, but to protect the injured? The guards of governors ought to be the guards of justice. But Pilate had not courage enough to act according to his conscience; and his cowardice betrayed him into a snare.
3. The further colour which the prosecutors gave to their demand (v. 7): We have a law, and by our law, if it were but in our power to execute it, he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. Now here observe,
(1.) They made their boast of the law, even when through breaking the law they dishonoured God, as is charged upon the Jews, Rom. ii. 23. They had indeed an excellent law, far exceeding the statutes and judgments of other nations; but in vain did they boast of their law, when they abused it to such bad purposes.
(2.) They discover a restless and inveterate malice against our Lord Jesus. When they could not incense Pilate against him by alleging that he pretended himself a king, they urged this, that he pretended himself a God. Thus they turn every stone to take him off.
(3.) They pervert the law, and make that the instrument of their malice. Some think they refer to a law made particularly against Christ, as if, being a law, it must be executed, right or wrong; whereas there is a woe to them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write the grievousness which they have prescribed, Isa. x. 1. See Mic. vi. 16. But it should seem they rather refer to the law of Moses; and if so,
[1.] It was true that blasphemers, idolaters, and false prophets, were to be put to death by that law. Whoever falsely pretended to be the Son of God was guilty of blasphemy, Lev. xxiv. 16. But then,
[2.] It was false that Christ pretended to be the Son of God, for he really was so; and they ought to have enquired into the proofs he produced of his being so. If he said that he was the Son of God, and the scope and tendency of his doctrine were not to draw people from God, but to bring them to him, and if he confirmed his mission and doctrine by miracles, as undoubtedly he did, beyond contradiction, by their law they ought to hearken to him (Deut. xviii. 18, 19), and, if they did not, they were to be cut off. That which was his honour, and might have been their happiness, if they had not stood in their own light, they impute to him as a crime, for which he ought not to be crucified, for this was no death inflicted by their law.
IV. The judge brings the prisoner again to his trial, upon this new suggestion. Observe,
1. The concern Pilate was in, when he heard this alleged (v. 8): When he heard that his prisoner pretended not to royalty only, but to deity, he was the more afraid. This embarrassed him more than ever, and made the case more difficult both ways; for,
(1.) There was the more danger of offending the people if he should acquit him, for he knew how jealous that people were for the unity of the Godhead, and what aversion they now had to other gods; and therefore, though he might hope to pacify their rage against a pretended king, he could never reconcile them to a pretended God. “If this be at the bottom of the tumult,” thinks Pilate, “it will not be turned off with a jest.”
(2.) There was the more danger of offending his own conscience if he should condemn him. “Is he one” (thinks Pilate) “that makes himself the Son of God? and what if it should prove that he is so? What will become of me then?” Even natural conscience makes men afraid of being found fighting against God. The heathen had some fabulous traditions of incarnate deities appearing sometimes in mean circumstances, and treated ill by some that paid dearly for their so doing. Pilate fears lest he should thus run himself into a premunire.
2. His further examination of our Lord Jesus thereupon, v. 9. That he might give the prosecutors all the fair play they could desire, he resumed the debate, went into the judgment-hall, and asked Christ, Whence art thou? Observe,
(1.) The place he chose for this examination: He went into the judgment-hall for privacy, that he might be out of the noise and clamour of the crowd, and might examine the thing the more closely. Those that would find out the truth as it is in Jesus must get out of the noise of prejudice, and retire as it were into the judgment-hall, to converse with Christ alone.
(2.) The question he put to him: Whence art thou? Art thou from men or from heaven? From beneath or from above? He had before asked directly, Art thou a King? But here he does not directly ask, Art thou the Son of God? lest he should seem to meddle with divine things too boldly. But in general, “Whence art thou? Where wast thou, and in what world hadst thou a being, before thy coming into this world?”
(3.) The silence of our Lord Jesus when he was examined upon this head; but Jesus gave him no answer. This was not a sullen silence, in contempt of the court, nor was it because he knew not what to say; but,
[1.] It was a patient silence, that the scripture might be fulfilled, as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth, Isa. liii. 7. This silence loudly bespoke his submission to his Father’s will in his present sufferings, which he thus accommodated himself to, and composed himself to bear. He was silent, because he would say nothing to hinder his sufferings. If Christ had avowed himself a God as plainly as he avowed himself a king, it is probable that Pilate would not have condemned him (for he was afraid at the mention of it by the prosecutors); and the Romans, though they triumphed over the kings of the nations they conquered, yet stood in awe of their gods. See 1 Cor. ii. 8. If they had known him to be the Lord of glory, they would not have crucified him; and how then could we have been saved?
[2.] It was a prudent silence. When the chief priests asked him, Art thou the Son of the Blessed? he answered, I am, for he knew they went upon the scriptures of the Old Testament which spoke of the Messiah; but when Pilate asked him he knew he did not understand his own question, having no notion of the Messiah, and of his being the Son of God, and therefore to what purpose should he reply to him whose head was filled with the pagan theology, to which he would have turned his answer?
(4.) The haughty check which Pilate gave him for his silence (v. 10): “Speakest thou not unto me? Dost thou put such an affront upon me as to stand mute? What knowest thou not that, as president of the province, I have power, if I think fit, to crucify thee, and have power, if I think fit, to release thee?” Observe here,
[1.] How Pilate magnified himself, and boasts of his own authority, as not inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar, of whom it is said that whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive. Dan. v. 19. Men in power are apt to be puffed up with their power, and the more absolute and arbitrary it is the more it gratifies and humours their pride. But he magnifies his power to an exorbitant degree when he boasts that he has power to crucify one whom he had declared innocent, for no prince or potentate has authority to do wrong. Id possumus, quod jure possumus–We can do that only which we can do justly.
[2.] How he tramples upon our blessed Saviour: Speakest thou not unto me? He reflects upon him, First, As if he were undutiful and disrespectful to those in authority, not speaking when he was spoken to. Secondly, As if he were ungrateful to one that had been tender of him: “Speakest thou not to me who have laboured to secure thy release?” Thirdly, As if he were unwise for himself: “Wilt thou not speak to clear thyself to one that is willing to clear thee?” If Christ had indeed sought to save his life, now had been his time to have spoken; but that which he had to do was to lay down his life.
(5.) Christ’s pertinent answer to this check, v. 11, where,
[1.] He boldly rebukes his arrogance, and rectifies his mistake: “Big as thou lookest and talkest, thou couldest have no power at all against me, no power to scourge, no power to crucify, except it were given thee from above.” Though Christ did not think fit to answer him when he was impertinent (then answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like him), yet he did think fit to answer him when he was imperious; then answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit, Prov. xxvi. 4, 5. When Pilate used his power, Christ silently submitted to it; but, when he grew proud of it, he made him know himself: “All the power thou hast is given thee from above,” which may be taken two ways:–First, As reminding him that his power in general, as a magistrate, was a limited power, and he could do no more than God would suffer him to do. God is the fountain of power; and the powers that are, as they are ordained by him and derived from him, so they are subject to him. They ought to go no further than his law directs them; they can go no further than his providence permits them. They are God’s hand and his sword, Ps. xvii. 13, 14. Though the axe may boast itself against him that heweth therewith, yet still it is but a tool, Isa. x. 5, 15. Let the proud oppressors know that there is a higher than they, to whom they are accountable, Eccl. v. 8. And let this silence the murmurings of the oppressed, It is the Lord. God has bidden Shimei curse David; and let it comfort them that their persecutors can do no more than God will let them. See Isa. li. 12, 13. Secondly, As informing him that his power against him in particular, and all the efforts of that power, were by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts ii. 23. Pilate never fancied himself to look so great as now, when he sat in judgment upon such a prisoner as this, who was looked upon by many as the Son of God and king of Israel, and had the fate of so great a man at his disposal; but Christ lets him know that he was herein but an instrument in God’s hand, and could no nothing against him, but by the appointment of Heaven, Acts iv. 27, 28.
[2.] He mildly excuses and extenuates his sin, in comparison with the sin of the ringleaders: “Therefore he that delivered me unto thee lies under greater guilt; for thou as a magistrate hast power from above, and art in thy place, thy sin is less than theirs who, from envy and malice, urge thee to abuse thy power.”
First, It is plainly intimated that what Pilate did was sin, a great sin, and that the force which the Jews put upon him, and which he put upon himself in it, would not justify him. Christ hereby intended a hint for the awakening of his conscience and the increase of the fear he was now under. The guilt of others will not acquit us, nor will it avail in the great day to say that others were worse than we, for we are not to be judged by comparison, but must bear our own burden.
Secondly, Yet theirs that delivered him to Pilate was the greater sin. By this it appears that all sins are not equal, but some more heinous than others; some comparatively as gnats, others as camels; some as motes in the eyes, others as beams; some as pence, others as pounds. He that delivered Christ to Pilate was either,
1. The people of the Jews, who cried out, Crucify him, crucify him. They had seen Christ’s miracles, which Pilate had not; to them the Messiah was first sent; they were his own; and to them, who were now enslaved, a Redeemer should have been most welcome, and therefore it was much worse in them to appear against him than in Pilate.
2. Or rather he means Caiaphas in particular, who was at the head of the conspiracy against Christ, and first advised his death, ch. xi. 49, 50. The sin of Caiaphas was abundantly greater than the sin of Pilate. Caiaphas prosecuted Christ from pure enmity to him and his doctrine, deliberately and of malice prepense. Pilate condemned him purely for fear of the people, and it was a hasty resolution which he had not time to cool upon.
3. Some think Christ means Judas; for, though he did not immediately deliver him into the hands of Pilate, yet he betrayed him to those that did. The sin of Judas was, upon many accounts, greater than the sin of Pilate. Pilate was a stranger to Christ; Judas was his friend and follower. Pilate found no fault in him, but Judas knew a great deal of good of him. Pilate, though biassed, was not bribed, but Judas took a reward against the innocent; the sin of Judas was a leading sin, and let in all that followed. He was a guide to them that took Jesus. So great was the sin of Judas that vengeance suffered him not to live; but when Christ said this, or soon after, he was gone to his own place.
V. Pilate struggles with the Jews to deliver Jesus out of their hands, but in vain. We hear no more after this of any thing that passed between Pilate and the prisoner; what remains lay between him and the prosecutors.
1. Pilate seems more zealous than before to get Jesus discharged (v. 12): Thenceforth, from this time, and for this reason, because Christ had given him that answer (v. 11), which, though it had a rebuke in it, yet he took kindly; and, though Christ found fault with him, he still continued to find no fault in Christ, but sought to release him, desired it, endeavoured it. He sought to release him; he contrived how to do it handsomely and safely, and so as not to disoblige the priests. It never does well when our resolutions to do our duty are swallowed up in projects how to do it plausibly and conveniently. If Pilate’s policy had not prevailed above his justice, he would not have been long seeking to release him, but would have done it. Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum—Let justice be done, though heaven itself should fall.
2. The Jews were more furious than ever, and more violent to get Jesus crucified. Still they carry on their design with noise and clamour as before; so now they cried out. They would have it thought that the commonalty was against him, and therefore laboured to get him cried down by a multitude, and it is no hard matter to pack a mob; whereas, if a fair poll had been granted, I doubt not but it would have been carried by a great majority for the releasing of him. A few madmen may out-shout many wise men, and then fancy themselves to speak the sense (when it is but the nonsense) of a nation, or of all mankind; but it is not so easy a thing to change the sense of the people as it is to misrepresent it, and to change their cry. Now that Christ was in the hands of his enemies his friends were shy and silent, and disappeared, and those that were against him were forward to show themselves so; and this gave the chief priests an opportunity to represent it as the concurring vote of all the Jews that he should be crucified. In this outcry they sought two things:–
(1.) To blacken the prisoner as an enemy to Cæsar. He had refused the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, had declared his kingdom not to be of this world, and yet they will have it that he speaks against Cæsar; antilegei—he opposes Cæsar, invades his dignity and sovereignty. It has always been the artifice of the enemies of religion to represent it as hurtful to kings and provinces, when it would be highly beneficial to both.
(2.) To frighten the judge, as no friend to Cæsar: “If thou let this man go unpunished, and let him go on, thou art not Cæsar’s friend, and therefore false to thy trust and the duty of thy place, obnoxious to the emperor’s displeasure, and liable to be turned out.” They intimate a threatening that they would inform against him, and get him displaced; and here they touched him in a sensible and very tender part. But, of all people, these Jews should not have pretended a concern for Cæsar, who were themselves so ill affected to him and his government. They should not talk of being friends to Cæsar, who were themselves such back friends to him; yet thus a pretended zeal for that which is good often serves to cover a real malice against that which is better.
3. When other expedients had been tried in vain, Pilate slightly endeavoured to banter them out of their fury, and yet, in doing this, betrayed himself to them, and yielded to the rapid stream, v. 13-15. After he had stood it out a great while, and seemed now as if he would have made a vigorous resistance upon this attack (v. 12), he basely surrendered. Observe here,
(1.) What it was that shocked Pilate (v. 13): When he heard that saying, that he could not be true to Cæsar’s honour, nor sure of Cæsar’s favour, if he did not put Jesus to death, then he thought it was time to look about him. All they had said to prove Christ a malefactor, and that therefore it was Pilate’s duty to condemn him, did not move him, but he still kept to his conviction of Christ’s innocency; but, when they urged that it was his interest to condemn him, then he began to yield. Note, Those that bind up their happiness in the favour of men make themselves an easy prey to the temptations of Satan.
(2.) What preparation was made for a definitive sentence upon this matter: Pilate brought Jesus forth, and he himself in great state took the chair. We may suppose that he called for his robes, that he might look big, and then sat down in the judgment-seat.
[1.] Christ was condemned with all the ceremony that could be. First, To bring us off at God’s bar, and that all believers through Christ, being judged here, might be acquitted in the court of heaven. Secondly, To take off the terror of pompous trials, which his followers would be brought to for his sake. Paul might the better stand at Cæsar’s judgment-seat when his Master had stood there before him.
[2.] Notice is here taken of the place and time.
First, The place where Christ was condemned: in a place called the Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha, probably the place where he used to sit to try causes or criminals. Some make Gabbatha to signify an enclosed place, fenced against the insults of the people, whom therefore he did the less need to fear; others an elevated place, raised that all might see him.
Secondly, The time, v. 14. It was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour. Observe,
1. The day: It was the preparation of the passover, that is, for the passover-sabbath, and the solemnities of that and the rest of the days of the feast of unleavened bread. This is plain from Luke xxiii. 54, It was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. So that this preparation was for the sabbath. Note, Before the passover there ought to be preparation. This is mentioned as an aggravation of their sin, in persecuting Christ with so much malice and fury, that it was when they should have been purging out the old leaven, to get ready for the passover; but the better the day the worse the deed.
2. The hour: It was about the sixth hour. Some ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts read it about the third hour, which agrees with Mark xv. 25. And it appears by Matt. xxvii. 45 that he was upon the cross before the sixth hour. But it should seem to come in here, not as a precise determination of the time, but as an additional aggravation of the sin of his prosecutors, that they were pushing on the prosecution, not only on a solemn day, the day of the preparation, but, from the third to the sixth hour (which was, as we call it, church-time) on that day, they were employed in this wickedness; so that for this day, though they were priests, they dropped the temple-service, for they did not leave Christ till the sixth hour, when the darkness began, which frightened them away. Some think that the sixth hour, with this evangelist, is, according to the Roman reckoning and ours, six of the clock in the morning, answering to the Jews’ first hour of the day; this is very probable, that Christ’s trial before Pilate was at the height about six in the morning, which was then a little after sun-rising.
(3.) The rencounter Pilate had with the Jews, both priests and people, before he proceeded to give judgment, endeavouring in vain to stem the tide of their rage.
[1.] He saith unto the Jews, Behold your king. This is a reproof to them for the absurdity and malice of their insinuating that this Jesus made himself a king: “Behold your king, that is, him whom you accuse as a pretender to the crown. Is this a man likely to be dangerous to the government? I am satisfied he is not, and you may be so too, and let him alone.” Some think he hereby upbraids them with their secret disaffection to Cæsar: “You would have this man to be your king, if he would but have headed a rebellion against Cæsar.” But Pilate, though he was far from meaning so, seems as if he were the voice of God to them. Christ, now crowned with thorns, is, as a king at his coronation, offered to the people: “Behold your king, the king whom God hath set upon his holy hill of Zion;” but they, instead of entering into it with acclamations of joyful consent, protest against him; they will not have a king of God’s choosing.
[2.] They cried out with the greatest indignation, Away with him, away with him, which speaks disdain as well as malice, aron, aron–“Take him, he is none of ours; we disown him for our kinsman, much more for our king; we have not only no veneration for him, but no compassion; away with him out of our sight:” for so it was written of him, he is one whom the nation abhors (Isa. xlix. 7), and they hid as it were their faces from him Isa. liii. 2, 3. Away with him from the earth, Acts xxii. 22. This shows, First, How we deserved to have been treated at God’s tribunal. We were by sin become odious to God’s holiness, which cried, Away with them, away with them, for God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. We were also become obnoxious to God’s justice, which cried against us, “Crucify them, crucify them, let the sentence of the law be executed.” Had not Christ interposed, and been thus rejected of men, we had been for ever rejected of God. Secondly, It shows how we ought to treat our sins. We are often in scripture said to crucify sin, in conformity to Christ’s death. Now they that crucified Christ did it with detestation. With a pious indignation we should run down sin in us, as they with an impious indignation ran him down who was made sin for us. The true penitent casts away from him his transgressions, Away with them, away with them (Isa. ii. 20; xxx. 22), crucify them, crucify them; it is not fit that they should live in my soul, Hos. xiv. 8.
[3.] Pilate, willing to have Jesus released, and yet that it should be their doing, asks them, Shall I crucify your king? In saying this, he designed either, First, To stop their mouths, by showing them how absurd it was for them to reject one who offered himself to them to be their king at a time when they needed one more than ever. Have they no sense of slavery? No desire of liberty? No value for a deliverer? Though he saw no cause to fear him, they might see cause to hope for something from him; since crushed and sinking interests are ready to catch at any thing. Or, Secondly, To stop the mouth of his own conscience. “If this Jesus be a king” (thinks Pilate), “he is only kin of the Jews, and therefore I have nothing to do but to make a fair tender of him to them; if they refuse him, and will have their king crucified, what is that to me?” He banters them for their folly in expecting a Messiah, and yet running down one that bade so fair to be he.
– Matthew Henry Commentary