This week’s sermon is called “What is Truth?” and is from John 18:28-40. The setting of the passage is the interaction of Pilate with the religious leaders and with Jesus. In the passage, Pilate goes back and forth between Jesus and the religious leaders, providing a vivid picture of the choice Pilate faced. He would have to choose between political expediency and the truth. Below I want to address a few issues from the passage which will not be included in the sermon on Sunday.
Where was Pilate’s House?
The permanent residence of the Roman governor of Palestine was in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). But the governor also had a residence in Jerusalem which he occupied during Jewish feasts or in times of political unrest. Most scholars think this building in Jerusalem was in one of two places: (1) the fortress or tower of Antonia, on the east hill north of the temple area, or (2) the palace of Herod on the western side of the city.
Did the Jews really have no right to execute a person?
Some scholars have said that first century Jews could execute their own people and that this statement in John was added to make Pilate (and thus Gentiles) implicit in Jesus’ death. We do see two New Testament instances in Acts of Jews executing their own people in the cases of Stephen and James. In the case of Stephen, it appears that this was simply a case of a mob out of control and not the result of any legal proceedings. In the case of James, Josephus tells us that James was executed in a period between the rule of two Roman governors and that the high priest who had James put to death was later punished for his actions. It makes sense that Rome would stay in control of the death penalty so as to not have Jews putting to death fellow Jews who were sympathetic to Rome. Judea had been a troublesome area for Rome so it is likely that prohibiting the Jews to execute their own was standard procedure in Judea.
Greek Notes from the Passage
There is an emphasis in the way verse 29 is written that Pilate went out to the Jews. This is probably to highlight his accommodation to their religious scruples.
Verse 36. The Greek word translated “servants” here is not doulos, but huperetai, which has more of an idea of helper or assistant than bondslave. The word translated “fought” is in the imperfect tense, stressing continuing action in the past. The idea is that if Jesus were an earthly king, his subjects would have been fighting all along for the supremacy of His kingdom.
Verse 40. The Greek word describing Barabbas as a robber is a word which is used of the man who fell into the hand of robbers in the parable of the good Samaritan, it is used with reference to the men crucified with Jesus and it is used with reference to Barabbas. It is also used with reference to the false teachers and false messiahs in John chapter 10, who are characterized as thieves and robbers. Linking to Ezekiel 34, we see that this is a reference to the religious leaders who feed themselves but not the sheep. But Jesus is the good shepherd. The religious leaders are robbers and, ironically, they have chosen a literal robber to release instead of the Son of God.
Note: Some may wonder about the timing of the Passover here and why the religious leaders had not yet eaten the Passover when it appears Jesus and His disciples had. I will deal with this issue in a later post regarding the timing of the final events of Jesus’ life.