The Gospel of John – Lesson 47 – John 18:28-40
28 Early in the morning, the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium. They did not enter the Praetorium themselves, so that they would not become ceremonially unclean. (They wanted to be able to eat the Passover meal.) 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate told them “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews said, “It’s not legal for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This happened so that the statement Jesus had spoken indicating what kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. 33 Pilate went back into the Praetorium and summoned Jesus. He asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.” 37“You are a king then?” Pilate asked. Jesus answered, “I am, as you say, a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38“What is truth?” Pilate said to him. After he said this, he went out again to the Jews and told them, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at the Passover. So do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” 40 Then they shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now, Barabbas was a rebel.)
There was no surprise in the outcome of Jesus’ trial before the high priest. The Jewish Sanhedrin wanted to be rid of Jesus. They decided Jesus was worthy of death even if they had no charges to bring against him. When they arrived at the residence of the governor, the members of the Sanhedrin put on an outward show of being ceremonially clean. They refused to enter the home of a Roman Gentile. According to rabbinical law this would have made them unclean for the remainder of the Feast of the Passover. But in all this they failed to see how spiritually unclean they were as they demanded the death of the sinless Son of God.
The Roman governor initially did what he should have done in the situation he faced. He demanded to know what charges were brought against Jesus. But the Jews had no interest in a fair trial to determine Jesus’ guilt or innocence. They wanted Pilate to simply accept their word that Jesus was guilty and deserving of death. Pilate quickly decided that this was a matter he didn’t need to be involved in. He tried to pass the trial back to the Jews. But the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus to die. Only the Roman government could hand down the death penalty.
Pilate tried questioning Jesus. Jesus responded by showing he did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. God’s kingdom isn’t limited by geographical boundaries. Our Lord’s kingdom is his gracious rule over all things for the good of his people. Jesus testified to the truth that all people are sinful and deserving of God’s eternal judgement. But God is rich in mercy. He sent his Son to pay the price to rescue us from our sins. All who believe in the truth that Jesus Christ is our only Savior have the promise of eternal life with him in heaven.
But Pilate responded with words that ring loud and clear in the post-modern world of today. He asked “What is truth?” So many people today want to believe there are no absolute truths. They will say that what is true for you may not be true for me. Such an attitude has had its effects in religion. Things that the Word of God clearly defines as sin are increasingly being viewed as acceptable behaviors. People want to say that there are many different ways to heaven even though Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Left to ourselves we would also question even the core truths of the Holy Scriptures. It is only by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament that we believe the truth of God’s saving message.
One truth was evident to Pilate. Jesus had done nothing deserving of death. He went back outside and reported his findings to the Jews. Pilate tried to set Jesus free by using a custom he observed at the time of the Passover. He always released one prisoner to the crowd. A criminal named Barabbas was in custody at the time. From the four Gospels we learn this man was guilty of murder and rebellion. Surely the people would want Jesus set free rather than a man who was a danger to society. But the plan failed. The leaders of the Jews stirred up the crowd to the extent that they demanded Barabbas should be set free instead of Jesus.
The truth was there for all to see. Jesus had proven by his powerful words and actions that he is the true Son of God and the Savior of the world. But sinful mankind sneers in response, “What is truth?” Here we give all thanks and praise to our Lord that he has opened our eyes, hearts, and minds to see and believe the truth about Jesus. He offered no defense at his trial. He knew that our salvation depended on his suffering and death. He carried out his mission to the very end. We put our trust in Christ alone. We believe in him and live.
1 – Look at the conversation between the Jewish leaders and Pilate. What statements make it clear they had no interest in a fair trial of Jesus?
When Pilate asked what charges they were bringing against Jesus they offered none. They demanded that Pilate accept their word that he was a criminal. They also demanded that a convicted criminal (Barabbas) should be released, rather than Jesus who was innocent.
2 – Throughout history many people have looked for God to set up a great earthly kingdom. What did Jesus say in response?
He told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world (see verse 36). This world is only a temporary home for us. Our Lord Jesus graciously rules in our hearts and lives. His goal is that all people should repent of their sins and believe in him as their Savior.
3 – What tactics did Pilate try in order to set Jesus free?
He tried to have the Jews put Jesus on trial themselves, but they refused because they could not hand down the death penalty. Pilate reported that he found no reason to bring a charge against Jesus. The people refused to accept his findings. Finally he offered to release one prisoner to them, which was his custom at the time of the Passover. But the people demanded that Barabbas would be released rather than Jesus.
4 – What does the response of the crowd show us about the hold that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh can have on people?
Barabbas was a hardened criminal. Jesus was innocent of any crime. It made no sense to release a criminal and to kill an innocent man. But that is what sinful human beings demanded in the trial of Jesus. They wanted an innocent man to die to serve their purposes.
If you have any questions about the Word of God we studied in this lesson please contact Pastor Greg Tobison. You can send your questions to