From then on, Pilate tried to release Him, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who declares himself a king is defying Caesar."
I. PILATE'S ASSERTION OF AUTHORITY. It was very natural for Pilate to speak so. He mistook the spirit or' Jesus; but he made no vain boast in speaking of his power to crucify and to release. He had troops of obedient soldiers at his disposal, to effect whatever he decided. This exhibition of Pilate's power had its good side. Bad as Pilate may have been, he held a necessary and a beneficial office. Brutal as the soldiers were, they made the last barrier against anarchy and lawlessness. The office of Pilate is ever honored in all true Christian teaching. A strong executive is a thing to be thankful for. Judges and magistrates have to be watched, for the mere wrapping of a man in scarlet and ermine cannot take away his frailties, prejudices, and antipathies. But the office is good, and the man that fills it is often good. We are not wild beasts. There must be something to restrain the violent and predatory hand. If the lion in the desert sees the antelope, he springs on him at once; no after-power will come in to demand of the lion wherefore he slew the helpless beast. But if a man in a civilized community ponders an evil deed, he has to ponder also all the possible results. He cannot get past the risk of punishment.
II. JESUS AND THE ORIGIN OF AUTHORITY. Pilate was not a man caring to seek and think under the surface of things, or he would have asked himself the question, "Why are these soldiers so ready to obey me? Why is it that I, one man, have all these dwellers in Jerusalem under my control?" Man recognizes the need of authority. Jesus did not mean to dispute the right of Pilate to do what he liked with him. Pilate would have traced the origin of his authority to Rome, but that only threw the question a little further back. When we get to the very highest seen thing, we feel that, as it were, an invisible hand is stretching down and making it what it is. Jesus wanted to make Pilate feel that, whatever power he had, he would be called to account for the use of it. Judas had the greater blame, but Pilate could not escape. - Y.
From thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him.I. DESPAIRING STRUGGLES BY A FEEBLE SOUL (ver. 12).
1. The earnestness of this attempt. Already he had endcavoured to rescue Christ —(1) By refusing to proceed without an accusation (John 18:29).(2) By offering a choice between Barabbas and Jesus (John 18:39; Matthew 27:17).(3) By scourging Christ and thus appealing to their sympathy (ver. 5). These stratagems were defeated, perhaps largely because Pilate had not been in earnest. Now he bends himself with energy and determination to the task.
2. The reason of this attempt.(1) The inward conviction of fear that Christ was a supernatural being.(2) The deepening impression made by Christ's person and character.(3) The secret apprehension that it would not be safe to proceed farther against Christ.(4) The gentleness Christ had displayed in palliating his offence.
II. DEXTEROUS MANOEUVRING BY A CRAFTY FOE. "But the Jews cried out," &c. The last arrow that the Jews had in their quiver, was —
1. Sharply pointed. It was a return to the original indictment of sedition which Pilate an hour before had waved aside as absurd. Now they show the governor how adroitly it may be turned against himself. Tiberius would hardly regard as a loyal act the liberation of one who had professed to be a king.
2. Correctly aimed. The shaft found the open joint in Pilate's harness and went straight to his heart. There was nothing that Pilate had more reason to dread than deletion to the emperor.
3. Powerfully driven home. Like men bent on having their way, they cried out with one simultaneous yell. And they had it! The procurator reeled as one shot.
III. IGNOMINIOUS SURRENDER BY AN UNJUST JUDGE (ver. 13). The capitulation was —
1. Cowardly. These accused hierarchs had proved better players than himself for Jesus' life. With truth, justice, conscience, heaven, Christ and God on his side he had lost the game because he was a coward. The one thing he could not contemplate without a shudder was being reported to the emperor.
2. Complete. The struggle so long and at one time so gallantly and to appearance so hopefully, maintained was ended. There was no mistaking the import of Pilate's next actions, the fetching out of Jesus, the sitting down upon the judge's chair, and perhaps the handwashing.
3. Contemptuous. "Behold your King!" as if intimating with fierce disdain and stinging mockery of the people that had conquered him, that the thorn-crowned prisoner was indeed their King.
4. Conclusive. The deed was irrevocable (ver. 16). If for a moment there was hesitation while for the last time he asked, "Shall I crucify your King?" it was only for a moment, it was swept away before the awful shout, "We have no king but Caesar."Lessons:
1. The difficulty of doing right when self-interest stands in the way, "If self the wavering balance shake, its rarely right adjusted" (Robert Burns).
2. The feebleness of every soul that hesitates to follow conscience. Had Pilate listened only to the still small voice within he had been invincible.
3. The guilt incurred by openly defying conscience. Christ palliated Pilate's sin before the preceding interview: it is not clear that He would have done so after that interview closed.
4. The degeneracy into which a soul may fall by turning away from Christ. Priests and people elected Caesar for their king rather than have God's Son for their Messiah!
(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
I. WORLDLY POLICY. The main motive that led to Pilate's final decision was a regard to his safety and his ease. He felt that to take a determined stand on the innocence of our Lord would involve peril to his position; and he was not prepared to incur that danger. It is by such considerations that men are moved and confronted in doing wrong. We live in a time of expediency, in the sense of not doing right lest it should be unprofitable. A high civilization and a large development of the commercial spirit is always in danger of fostering this. In public affairs, the favourite point of view is the economic; the popular inquiries are, what will it cost? Dishonesty is practised in business because it is lucrative, and conscientious conviction is suppressed lest it should lead to social disrepute. Oh! beware of Pilate's sin; learn the grand lesson that we have nothing to do with consequences when truth and right are involved. It will often happen that sincerity and righteousness will entail loss and suffering; and he who would keep a good conscience must lay his account with these. If we be not prepared for them, if we will only cleave to godliness when it is "gain," and to honesty when it is the best policy, there is nothing for us but to go in Pilate's steps, and abandon Christ, though convinced that there is no fault in Him at all.
II. WORLDLY POLICY RESISTING AND EFFECTUALLY SUBDUING THE STRONGEST CONVICTIONS OF DUTY. Pilate wished and tried to deliver Christ, without sacrificing himself, for that purpose. He did not choose to do wrong; he did much to avoid doing it. And this may be the case with us: it often is. We do not fall at once. We set ourselves manfully against the besetting suggestions of interest, pleasure and good opinion. We enter the contest with a sincere desire to be right. It is long, perhaps, before we are prepared to give up; we strive to subordinate circumstances to our convictions; we go on, now under one pretence and now under another, until all pretences are exhausted: but at last an election must be made, Christ must be sacrificed or sin must be resigned, and, like the young man we feel the pressure of his demands to be too strong for us, and depart from him though "sorrowful." And there are times when the case assumes an especially solemn form; that, e.g., of deep spiritual conviction, and that of decision as to the general way and course of life. Then is Christ before us, arraigned and accused by the Sanhedrim of passion, interest, and sophistry, before the Pilate of reason, conscience, and true affection; the conflict may be long and painful; ingenious devices may be used to terminate or to postpone it: but escape and delay are both impossible; a decision must be made; and the soul reluctantly, and with a tearful eye, resigns the Saviour, and gives itself up to sin, and to a lie. And often this decision is final; it cannot be reversed. "If we sin wilfully," &c.
III. WORLDLY POLICY BRINGING A MAN INTO BONDAGE TO THOSE HE SHOULD GOVERN. Pilate was afraid of being accused by the Jews of unfaithfulness to the Roman emperor. He was the governor, and was deterred from doing right by the malice of the people over whom he presided. He was subject to those who were subject to him. Worldly policy often makes us abdicate our proper functions, and serve when we should reign. We are in the world, and in the Church, to do good, and to maintain righteousness. Whatever our superiority over others, and our means of affecting them, it is a faculty intended to resist their evil and advance their welfare; but if we give heed to the suggestions of selfishness; we not only do wrong, but do wrong to those whom we allow thus to influence us. Pilate, the governor, is the instrument of the Jews.
IV. WORLDLY POLICY DERIVING STRENGTH FROM. A MAN'S OWN MISDEEDS. Pilate's rule in Judaea was very far from what it should have been. He could not therefore afford to provoke the nation. He must do wrong again, because he had done wrong already. And how often do we see sin working in this way! We have put ourselves in the power of the world by our transgressions and inconsistencies. Could we bring an unsullied character, human esteem and honour, with us to the task, we might hope to make some impression, but now there will be the mocking surprise, the bitter retort, the hot wrath; and the will to do good, as in Pilate's case, is chained by the memory of past evil. And if past sins may make us subject to men, they are still more likely to make us slaves to ourselves, "When we would do good, evil is present with us." How many are there who, like Pilate, would let Christ go, aye and welcome Him as the Son of God, but for the oppressions of former iniquities! could they but blot them out, what would they not do! but the tyranny of lust and worldliness is strong upon them; and he is sacrificed, and they are sacrificed, to "old sins."
(A. J. Morris.)
(H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar's friend.I. CAESAR'S FRIEND.
1. An enemy of Christ.
2. A lover of self.
3. A slave of man. Such Pilate was!
II. CHRIST'S FRIEND.
1. A lover of the truth.
2. A doer of the right.
3. A champion of the wronged.
4. A sympathizer with the suffering.
5. A servant of conscience.
6. A denier of self. Such Pilate might have been.
(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
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