Gospel of John 19:16b-47

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” ESV

John may differ from the Synoptics about who carried the cross. The three Synoptics have Simon of Cyrene forced to carry the cross most of the way. But all four Gospels have Jesus starting with the cross. It could be that John chose not to include Simon because he had nothing to add to the other accounts.

John alone adds which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There is a problem with the ESV use of Aramaic. The Greek word used is Hebraisti. Even in Greek, it looks like Hebrew, and it is. I did not do an exhaustive search, but most translations chose Hebrew. ESV placed a note on the word Aramaic, referring to John 5:2; Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda. The same Greek word is used, Hebraisti, and it is used again in verse 20. Strong’s Dictionary lists three other Greek words that could have been used and translated as Aramaic. Hebraisti is the only one that does not mention the Aramaic option.

All four Gospels place Jesus on the cross, centered between two others. Matthew and Mark label them as robbers, and Luke has them as criminals, but John leaves their crimes in doubt.

We have no idea how long the two robbers had been on their crosses when they brought Jesus to his. They had likely been there since early morning. The Jewish leaders insisted that no one be left on the cross overnight. We do not know if the two were nailed or tied to their crosses. Nailing would result in quicker deaths.

Jesus was nailed to the cross to make sure he died that day. He had a nail driven into each wrist and one long nail driven through his crossed feet. The nail on the feet causes excruciating pain when he tries to push his body upright. The nails on the wrists cause agonizing pain when he slumps down. The nails push against the median nerve before the nerve runs through the carpal tunnel. Slumping causes wrist pain and puts stress on the chest, making it hard to breathe. In addition, fluids quickly build up around the lungs and heart until they cease to function. That is most likely the cause of Jesus’ death.

Matthew records the plaque as reading, This is Jesus the King of the Jews. Mark and Luke have the short version, The King of the Jews.

Verses 20-24 have no parallel in the Synoptics. I have a feeling in verse 22 that Pilate had had more than enough appeasing of the Jewish leaders.

23 Now when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained. (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.) 24 So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.” This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.” So the soldiers did these things. NET

The cross is a sacred symbol of Christianity, yet the Gospels have very little to say about the actual crucifixion. It was not necessary in the first century because nearly everyone had to witness many executions. Today, we can learn the details from other sources. Just know that Jesus experienced suffering for only a few hours. The Romans always agreed to have the bodies removed before Shabbot. More on that later.

All Christian art shows Jesus wearing ‘undies’ while on the cross. That may have been true because the Jews may have insisted that no naked men be hung up. Nowhere else in the empire would that have been the case, and we do not know if it was in Palestine.

Four soldiers generally handled crucifixions and they were allowed to keep whatever property was on the prisoners at the crosses. They mostly sold whatever they received.

The seamless tunic is worth a note because it was in the first century that weaving looms were made large enough to weave a one-piece tunic. The industrial age in its infancy. The few weavers who could afford the new looms charged so much that only the well-to-do could own one. Yet another indication that Jesus had supporters with money. It seems less likely that Jesus would have purchased it for himself.

Psalm 22:18; They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. ESV The Psalm opens with; My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ESV Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 have Jesus quoting that exact line in their crucifixion stories. Psalms 22, 23, and 24 make a triptych for Christians by describing three stages of the Son of God.

25 Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!” 27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home. NET

While women do not dominate, they play important roles in John’s Gospel. We see here that these four women stayed as close to Jesus as the guards would allow. Of the men, only John was willing to risk his life. We will read of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the resurrected Jesus.

Clopas is mentioned here as the husband of Mary. Luke 24:18 mentions Cleopas as one of the two men who meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

As the oldest male of the family, Jesus was responsible for making sure his mother was safe and cared for. Now that death is upon him, he hands her to John, who willingly takes on the duty. This was no small thing at that time.

Nothing is said of Jesus’ brothers. Typically, the next eldest, presumably James, would take care of her. I suspect that Jesus knew even then that James would be very busy becoming the Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. Having John take on the responsibility supports the Roman Catholic position that James and the boys were not brothers but cousins. I disagree, but it does help their argument.

We have no idea how long Mary lived. As a guess, she was fourteen when Jesus was born, so she would have been about 45 as she stood at the foot of the cross. Half of the people born the same year as Mary—say 20 BCE—were already dead.

28 After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!” 29 A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a branch of hyssop and lifted it to his mouth. 30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. NET

For this section, I will quote freely from the NET notes.

In order to fulfill the scripture. There is a wordplay here that we lose in the translation. There is one Greek word—teleiotes—that translates everything was completed, while—teleioo—translates to fulfill. Both words come from the same root word, and they both mean much the same thing.

Psalm 69:21 reads, They put bitter poison into my food, and to quench my thirst they give me vinegar to drink. NET This is the scripture that John seems to refer to. Psalm 22:15 adds another image to the thirst. The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery; my tongue sticks to my gums. You set me in the dust of deathNET While this quote does not fit as well as 69:21, it has the advantage of including the above quoted passage: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ESV

NET adds this: In light of the connection in the Fourth Gospel between thirst, and the living water which Jesus offers, it is highly ironic that here Jesus himself, the source of that living water, expresses his thirst. And since 7:39 associates the living water with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ statement here in 19:28 amounts to an admission that at this point he has been forsaken by God.

For God to forsake (abandon) the Son of God is a difficult concept for many to accept. How can God abandon God? The answer is that Jesus is also the Son of Man. We cannot understand that paradox—being both human and God, but that is the reality. From the day of his conception to the day of his arrest, Jesus was connected to God in a way none of us can experience. God supported him day and night. Suddenly now, Jesus, as a human, can no longer hear the Word of God; can no longer feel his presence. He must die as we die, alone.

William Barclay writes; It was the blood of the Passover lamb which saved the people of God; it was the blood of Jesus which was to save the world from sin. The very mention of hyssop would take the thoughts of any Jew back to the saving blood of the Passover lamb; and this is John’s way of saying that Jesus was the great Passover Lamb of God whose death was to save the whole world from sin.

Jesus did his duty. As we read these verses, we see Jesus asking for a drink, and after receiving it, he declares the last passage of scripture is fulfilled.

Jesus did not just die, he gave up his spirit. As Merrill C. Tenney points out, It implies voluntary action, not deprivation. The fact that Jesus laid down His life of His own choice goes far toward explaining the remarkable character of His death.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. ESV

There are several important points packed into this paragraph. The day of Preparation tells us it was the day the lambs were sacrificed. Passover begins at sundown as the families and groups recline around the tables to eat the Passover meal. That is the simple description, but I will leave the details for another time.

Calling the Sabbath a high day tells us that Passover occurred on the seventh day of the week—our Saturday. Jesus was executed on Friday and buried before sundown. The Synoptics agree that the sacrifice of the Passover lambs was on Thursday, and the arrest and execution of Jesus occurred on Friday. So all four Gospels agree the crucifixion occurred on Friday, but the Synoptics have Passover on Friday, and John places it on Saturday. That difference has puzzled commentators for centuries, and we are no closer to having an answer today.

The Synoptics include more detail about the crucifixion, suggesting they may be more accurate. More likely, John considered their work acceptable for the most part; he added a few incidents that he believed would complete the story.

John alone records the breaking of legs. The guards needed to force the men to hang on their arms until their hearts stopped so as not to violate the Jewish overnight rule. With their legs broken, the men could not hold themselves up, so their hearts and lungs would fill with fluids. There was no need to break the legs of Jesus because he had already died. But, it is not that trivial. John went out of the way to record Jesus being the sacrificial Passover Lamb on the same day the individual lambs were sacrificed. Exodus 12:46—repeated by Numbers 9:12—It must be eaten in one house; you must not bring any of the meat outside the house, and you must not break a bone of itNET

34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” ESV

Verse 35 suggests several possibilities. I subscribe to the theory that John is still describing himself in the third person. He could have just as well said, I saw this and I say it is true so that you might believe.

It could be that someone else has been telling followers for decades about what he saw, and John is referring to that well-known person.

It might even be the testimony of the soldier who used the lance.

Verse 37 comes from Zechariah 12. 10 And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

William Barclay writes; But, even so, why does John stress it so much? … To John it was the final, unanswerable proof that Jesus was a real man with a real body. Here was the answer to the gnostics with their ideas of phantoms and spirits and an unreal manhood. Here was the proof that Jesus was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.

Barclay continues: But to John this was more than a proof of the manhood of Jesus. It was a symbol of the two great sacraments of the Church. There is one sacrament which is based on water—the sacrament of baptism; and there is one sacrament which is based on blood—the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with its cup of scarlet, blood-red wine.

John is still presenting testimonies, here in the form of scripture quotes. At every step of the arrest, trial, execution, and death, Jesus has been in charge. Every step fits the promised Messiah.

38 After it was all over, Joseph (who came from Arimathaea and was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly for fear of the Jews) requested Pilate that he might take away Jesus’ body, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took his body down. Phillips

39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. ESV

41 In the place where he was crucified, there was a garden containing a new tomb in which nobody had yet been laid. 42 Because it was the preparation day and because the tomb was conveniently near, they laid Jesus in this tomb. Phillips

We need to learn what we can about Joseph. According to John, Joseph was a disciple of Jesus. John would certainly have known that well before the crucifixion.

However, there is a well-developed notion in the first and second centuries that Joseph was an enemy of Jesus and that Joseph and Nicodemus did the bidding of Caiaphas.

Acts 13:27-29 seems to fit that position. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. ESV Several later sources have Jesus buried by his enemies.

However, Matthew 27:57 reads: When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. ESV

Mark 15:43. Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. ESV 

Luke 23:50-51. Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of GodESV

There is one more quote, from Isaiah 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. ESV

The scriptures seem to agree with John.

How difficult would it have been for Joseph to make that request of Pilate? Most of Jesus’ disciples were in hiding, yet this highly placed Jewish leader—possibly a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin—asked for the body of a criminal. And why would Pilate agree to let him do it? Most executed criminals were dumped into unmarked graves well away from the city. Would Joseph have worried that word would get back to Caiaphas?

We also see our old friend, Nicodemus. We first met him—at night—in chapter three. We see him again briefly in John 7. 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed. 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them [the leaders], said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” ESV

The Synoptics all record Joseph as asking to bury Jesus, but none of them mention Nicodemus. It may be that Nicodemus never publicly committed himself to being a follower or was not sure he wanted to be a follower. Notice that John still does not call him a disciple.

But by the time John was writing, Nicodemus was long dead, so John included his part in the burial—as a guess.

Verse 39 in Greek gives the weight of spices as one hundred pounds, which Phillips failed to calculate to the English pound. The Greek cites the Roman pound, about twelve ounces modern, or seventy-five English pounds total.

But verses 38-39 present a couple of problems: can one man—an older man—handle a dead body by himself, and can one older man carry seventy-five pounds of anything through the busy city streets? The Roman guards would have been busy getting rid of the other two bodies, but one may have helped Joseph get Jesus off the cross. I doubt he would have done any more than that. The picture now is two older men carrying a dead body between them while one also carries seventy-five pounds of spices.

Solution? Both these men would have had servants and would have used them. That gets us into the next issue. Touching a dead body would make the men unclean—as in a week of ritual cleansing unclean. Here is a job for the servants again.

John does read they, so we assume John meant Joseph and Nicodemus. However, the Greek does not use a word to translate as they. Our English translations insert the pronouns to fit how we write and read. Otherwise, we would read, So came and took body down. So took the body of Jesus

In that culture, there was no need for John to write; Joseph had his two servants take Jesus from the cross, and Nicodemus had his two servants carry the spices. Nor would anyone in the first few centuries have believed that two high-ranking officials would have done that kind of physical work themselves.

In verse 40, we see Jesus wrapped in linen with the spices next to his body. The Synoptics all record Joseph alone wrapping Jesus in linen, with no mention of spices. John even adds that they followed the burial custom of the Jews. That is significant, for later, there would be no reason for the women to finish the burial as the Synoptics have it.

The Synoptics write that Jesus was placed in a rock-hewn tomb. Matthew alone adds that the grave was intended for Joseph.

For John, the tomb was close and unused. It is worth noting that all four agree that Jesus lay in a brand new tomb. The Son of Man did not have to share a grave.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence


Gospel of John 18:28-19:16

28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas’ presence into the palace. It was now early morning and the Jews themselves did not go into the palace, for fear that they would be contaminated and would not be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate walked out to them and said, “What is the charge that you are bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not an evil-doer, we should not have handed him over to you,” they replied. 31 To which Pilate retorted, “Then take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” 32 “We are not allowed to put a man to death,” replied the Jews (thus fulfilling Christ’s prophecy of the method of his own death). Phillips

The confusion for us continues because we have no idea where Annas and Caiaphas lived. Speculation has it that they each had a small palace somewhere in the city, but no archaeological record supports that assumption. Josephus writes that Caiaphas had his palace near the Hasmonean Palace—the place used by Herod’s sons when they were in the city. It is possible that all of Annas’ family lived in one palace or that the current High Priest had a smaller residence near the Temple. If Annas and Caiaphas lived in the same palace it would have been easy to pass Jesus around.

A quick rehash of the Annas/Caiaphas question. In verse 18:13, Jesus is taken to Annas. In the next verse, Caiaphas is mentioned. In 18:19, the High Priest questions Jesus. That would suggest Caiaphas asked the questions, but 18:24 records Annas sending Jesus to Caiaphas, so Caiaphas could not have been asking the questions.

We also note that John wrote nothing else about Caiaphas’ actions.

J. Ramsey Michaels includes a discussion of who did the questioning of Jesus, concluding with the following. By default as it were, Caiaphas must (for now at least) be understood as the interrogator. If so, then it must be assued that Jesus, having been taken to Annas “first” (v. 12b), has moved on from there.

That is not the final word but there is no evidence to decide the answer, so we leave it here.

Herod the Great built a massive palace against the city’s western wall. Pilate and all the other Roman governors live in the palace when in the city. The rest of the time it is the administrative and military center for the Romans. Pilate’s headquarters is in Caesarea, a Roman city on the Mediterranian coast. He only visits Jerusalem on some of the holy days. When Pilate is in Jerusalem, he sits from about the first hour to the fifth hour each morning to hear the more complicated legal cases, as he does in any other city he visits, including Caesarea.

The Jews are concerned about ritual purity. If they should touch anything inside a Gentile building or be touched by anything or anyone, they have to go through a lengthy purification process. This is not just about the priests and authorities, it is true of all Jewish men. Only John records the fear of contamination for the Passover.

We should note that the Jewish leaders would not have dared to disturb Pilate until the time he was ready to receive such matters. That means this stage of the trial takes place in the early morning. The central question is: was it Thursday or Friday morning?

The Synoptics have Jesus sharing the Passover feast with his Twelve on Thursday and crucified on Friday. John seems to have Jesus eating the Last Supper—not the Passover—on Wednesday and facing the cross on Thursday while the Passover lambs are sacrificed, a powerful symbolism. 

Perhaps it will help to give the days as the Hebrew calendar has them. In the two most likely years for the crucifixion to occur—30 and 33 CE—the 14th of Nissan is on Thursday. The 14th is the day the Passover lambs are sacrificed. The actual feast is after sundown on Nissan 15, Friday.

In the Synoptics, Jesus—and the two thieves—must be off the crosses before sundown because that is the beginning of Shabbot, Saturday—Nissan 16.

In John, chapters 14-17, we see Jesus teaching and praying for his disciples. That apparently occurs on Wednesday Nissan 13 and after sundown for the early hours of Nissan 14. Jesus is arrested during the night of 14 Nissan, taken to Annas and Caiaphas in the dark, then to Pilate after sunrise. The crucifixion takes place as the lambs are sacrificed on Thursday the 14th. Jesus’ body is safely in the tomb by sundown as 15 Nissan begins. That places Jesus in the tomb for a bit of Thursday, all of Friday and Saturday, and an unknown portion of Sunday—possibly twelve hours—sunset to sunrise.

In reading John, we see Pilate wanting to dismiss the case against Jesus as only a religious issue, one the Jews should take care of. Remember that Pilate was warned by the emperor a few years before for upsetting the religious leaders. He wanted to avoid getting involved, but the Jewish leaders insisted.

33 So Pilate went back into the Palace and called Jesus to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked. 34 “Are you asking this of your own accord,” replied Jesus, “or have other people spoken to you about me?” 35 “Do you think I am a Jew?” replied Pilate. “It’s your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done, anyway?” 36 “My kingdom is not founded in this world—if it were, my servants would have fought to prevent my being handed over to the Jews. But in fact my kingdom is not founded on all this!” Phillips

Are you the king of the Jews? This is the crucial question for Pilate, but it is an even more critical question for the rest of the world and the rest of time. For Pilate, if Jesus claims to be the new king of Judea, then he is a political threat. If Jesus is the Messiah, he is also the King of Kings—a threat Pilate never understood.

It is worth noting that all four Gospels use the exact words of the question. Luke alone states that the authorities told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be a king. But it is likely Pilate’s spies kept him informed, with claiming to be king at the top of the list. The normal legal process was for the accusors to present the charges to Pilate, so he had heard that Jesus wanted to be king. Craig S. Keener writes, Whatever the possible religious motivations behind the charge, the charge against Jesus is political: by claiming to be a king, Jesus implied a worldly kingdom that would challenge Rome.

All the Synoptics have Jesus responding to the question with, You have said so. John has Jesus probe a bit. Are you asking this of your own accord, or have other people spoken to you about me? Remember that Jesus is standing in front of the man who speaks for the Emperor. No one else is involved in the trial. Pilate alone passes judgment. Jesus is a trifle saucy here.

Pilate reminds Jesus that his own people are accusing him. Pilate would rather not deal with what appeared to him a minor issue. What have you done? Pilate is trying to understand why the Temple authorities are so upset. No doubt his spies kept count of Jesus’ followers and reported a small band, a mix of men and women, hardly a threat.

Jesus sets Pilate’s mind at ease by refusing any claim to the political throne in the earthly sense.

37 “So you are a king, are you?” returned Pilate. “Indeed I am a king,” Jesus replied; “the reason for my birth and the reason for my coming into the world is to witness to the truth. Every man who loves truth recognises my voice.” 38 To which Pilate retorted, “What is ‘truth’?” and went straight out again to the Jews and said: “I find nothing criminal about him at all. 39 But I have an arrangement with you to set one prisoner free at Passover time. Do you wish me then to set free for you the ‘king of the Jews’?” 40 At this, they shouted out again, “No, not this man, but Barabbas!” Barabbas was a bandit. Phillips 

The Synoptics record Pilate’s question as Are you the King of the Jews? And Jesus response, You have said so. John is not content with that simple exchange.

We need to consider how John knew the details of the exchange between Pilate and Jesus. There is no way he could have been in the room or even in the palace. Most likely, one of the servants was in a position to hear. He later became a believer and told John what he heard.

Jesus makes a non-Jewish statement. I came into the world to witness to the truth. Speaking to a Roman, Jesus chooses to simply tie God and truth together in a way that Pilate could understand—somewhat.

That was enough for Pilate. He responded to what he heard to be a philosophical statement with, what is truth? He knew enough of Greek philosophy to know he need not continue.

To the Jewish authorities, Pilate reported that he could find no crime in Jesus. He offered them a deal. Release Jesus as is the custom. Give us Barabbas the bandit.

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged severely. The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe. They came up to him again and again and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly in the face. NET

We tend to think of flogging as a brutish practice by the Romans, but it was widely practiced throughout the world for thousands of years. Roman practice in the first century was considered by the people of the day to be reasonable. Bad people had to be punished. The Roman whip consisted of three leather thongs with three or more small lead balls threaded on the thongs. The intent was to rip through the skin of the back to cause bleeding on a limited level so that the sufferer would not bleed to death. You know how it worked if you have been brave enough to watch The Passion of the Christ, though the scene may have been overdone.

Several plants in Palestine produce thorns, and we do not know which the soldiers used for Jesus. They would have been whatever was close at hand. No artwork or written descriptions from the early centuries references the crown, so it seems that early Christians did not consider it of much import. Medieval paintings rarely showed a crown of thorns. When they did appear, they were generally short thorns. The modern trend has been to emphasize the wicked-looking long thrones. A small tree growing on the Mount of Olives had such thrones and could have been used. It is pictured above.

On the website, living with faith.org, R. Herbert, Ph.D, wrote this about the thorns. Like the crown of thorns, the Roman Civic Crown (Latin: corona civica) was formed of plant material: of leaves of the oak tree woven into a circle.  But the Civic Crown was granted only to  Roman citizens who saved the lives of other citizens.  So high was the honor of this crown that it became part of the  imperial regalia and was worn by all the emperors from the time of Augustus, and the emperors themselves were often hailed as the  “Savior” of the people.

Ironic or not, the richness of the symbolism that God allowed in the crown of thorns also finds much earlier foreshadowing in the Bible itself.  Not only does the biblical story of humanity’s “fall” tell us that as a result of sin the earth would produce “thorns and thistles” (
Genesis 3:17-19), but also the crown of thorns is more specifically foreshadowed in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Genesis 22:13 tells us that the sacrifice of Isaac was transferred to the sacrifice of the male sheep God provided, that was caught by its horns in a “thicket.”

The purple robe presents us with a problem. The color purple was reserved for royalty and the super-rich. Where would the soldiers have found such a garment? The most realistic solution is that Pilate had a ratty cast-off that he allowed the guards to use for such occasions. But we do not know for sure.

“Hail Caeser” was the proper address of the Emperor. For the soldiers to use it, they were mocking Jesus. Slapping him in the face added injury to insult.

We should not assume Jesus received thirty-nine lashes. That number—based on Deuteronomy 25:3—was used by the Jews,  so it did not apply to the Romans. Nonetheless, anything like that number would have left Jesus too weak to stand or talk. As we will see, Pilate intended to return Jesus to the Jews, so he likely ordered a light scourging. Matthew reports that Pilate had Jesus flogged (27:26). Mark reports that Pilate had Jesus flogged (15:15). Luke does not mention flogging. So, John alone makes much of the scourging.

Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” ESV

We must remember that Pilate was on his best behavior. A couple of years earlier, the Emperor sent him a severe reprimand for excessive violence. Pilate hated the Jews but had to tread lightly lest he lose his job. If Jesus had come before him a few years earlier, he would have ordered the execution without a second thought. God’s timing is incredible.

Notice Jesus is wearing his ‘kingly’ clothing. We do not know if the Jews thought Pilate was trying to pass Jesus off as a true king or if they saw the joke.

Behold the man! I suspect that John had his way with this statement. He is saying to the early Gnostics that Jesus was human. No doubt Pilate’s statement was similar, but John had a different agenda. Jesus is more man than anyone else in this whole drama. Jesus set the time a place for his arrest—even stepping forward to receive the guards who were more fearful than he. Jesus faced Pilate without fear while Pilate tried to get anyone else to make the judgment call. Jesus was indeed the Man.

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. ESV

Pilate was no doubt disturbed by the vehemence of the Jewish leaders. He had hoped that seeing the bleeding Jesus, they would soften their position. He tried again by shouting, I find no guilt in him. Finally, we learn that Pilate was even more afraid. Pilate’s fear may have been twofold. He was fearful of how the Jewish authorities might report this incident to Rome. At the same time, he seems to have become afraid of Jesus, as we will see below.

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” ESV

Pilate cannot understand why Jesus has everyone so upset. He tries to get to know Jesus first by asking where he is from. Pilate knows Jesus is from Nazareth and currently lives in Bethsaida, but he fears he might be from a more important ‘place.’ Getting no response, Pilate threatens Jesus. For his part, Jesus tells Pilate that he has no control over the Son of Man, that God alone is in charge.

Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin. I was puzzled by this until I read J. Ramsey Michaels’ comments. First, he notes that John used the singular he, so the reference is not likely to be to the Jews or even the authorities; he has one person in mind. Michaels then points to Caiaphas, followed by Judas as having the greater sin. But John has a message to the church that exceeds earthly bounds. Michaels believes Satan may have been the intended source of his delivery to be executed.

We have seen already that John uses earthly details to point to Heaven. For Jesus to mean Caiaphas, Judas, and Satan is characteristic of John’s style. Jesus does not let Pilate off the hook, but he does say his sin does not match that of the others. It is like saying that Hitler killed twenty million Russians in WWII, but Stalin killed forty million of his own people before the war (some put the number as high as sixty million).

12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. NET

While John does not record it, clearly, Pilate stepped outside again to try to bargain with the Jewish leaders. He does not want Rome to know that he ordered Jesus to be executed. And he is afraid of Jesus.

Now the Jewish leaders change tactics. They initially presented Jesus as claiming to be the Son of God. Now they realize Pilate could care less about that charge, so they make out that Jesus is challenging Caesar. That tack ends with verse 15, when they claim to have no king but Caesar. To even think that any first-century Jew would shout such an absurdity is mind-blowing.

I believe that John’s phrase, the Jews, applies only to the authorities from the Temple. Getting into the inner courts of Herod’s Palace was much like being admitted to the White House Olive Office. The guards would not allow very many in.

As John writes, the other consideration is that it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. All 18,000 Jewish priests were on duty that one day of the year, presumably including the High Priest. Women were busy preparing for the feast, and men were busy picking up their lambs to take to the Temple for the sacrifice. John notes it was the sixth hour, noon, so the men began to file into the Temple’s outer courts because the killing of the lambs would start soon. That means few men would have had time to watch the trial, if they could get in.

In verse 15, we read The chief priests answered. Notice the plural form. The Greek word is archiereus which means the high priest or the chief priest. If Caiaphas had been there, I think John would have named him. The picture I have is a group of priests who are close to Caiaphas doing all they can to get Jesus executed.

I will close this section with two quotes. The first is from Karen H. Jobes. Ironically, the chief priest here doubly condemn themselves since God’s original intention was for Israel to have no king but God, much less a pagan king (1 Samuel 8:6-7).

The second is from Merrill C. Tenney. A study of the attitudes of Pilate thus reveals that he passed from perfunctory official indifference through curiosity to intense personal concern, and then, because he did not dare to act on what he knew was right, he gave way to hesitation, fear, arrogance, and bitterness. He was aroused by Jesus’ presence and bearing, but he was reluctant to conform to the truth as the occasion presented it, and so he lost Jesus altogether. The story of Pilate is the tragedy of unbelief.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence