Teaching series from John

Jesus Before Annas and Pilate

John 18:12-19:16

Teaching t22494


Last week, we began studying the final events in Jesus’ public ministry—His arrest, His trial(s), His crucifixion, and His resurrection. All four gospels spend a disproportionate amount of space to these events (John devotes almost 20%) in order to emphasize that this is the most important part of Jesus’ life.

This morning we look at two of the trials which led to Jesus’ execution. The gospels authors speak of four trials, but John focuses on Jesus’ trial before Annas (the former High Priest) and Pilate (the Roman governor).

Last week, we noted that Jesus endured this ordeal with remarkable confidence and authority. You will see that in a sense, these two trials describe Annas and Pilate before Jesus rather than vice-versa. This confidence and authority come from Jesus’ knowledge that (13:3) “the Father had given all things into His hands.” This obviously does not mean that the Father authorized Jesus to over-rule His adversaries’ decision. Rather, it means that He would work even through Jesus’ enemies and their opposition to accomplish His plan. Let’s see how this happens in Jesus’ trials, beginning with His trial before Annas...

Jesus before Annas (& Caiaphas)

Read 18:12-14,19-23,28-32. We need to note a couple of really wicked deeds here:

Annas has Jesus struck (slapped in the face), which was a violation of Jewish jurisprudence. This is one of at least twelve breaches of Jewish jurisprudence committed by Annas and Caiaphas—the most serious of which is that they allow no witnesses for the defendant.

Their “submission” to Pilate was hypocritical. When Pilate says: “Judge Him yourselves,” they say: “We’re not allowed to put anyone to death.” This was true; the Romans had recently forbidden them to practice capital punishment, reserving that power for themselves. But that didn’t stop Jewish religious leaders from stoning people they condemned (see Stephen in Acts7). The real reason they wanted Pilate to condemn Jesus was that Roman execution was by crucifixion. Why was this important to them? Because the Old Testament law said “Anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (read Deut.21:22,23). Jesus claimed to be God’s Messiah, but if He got “hung on a pole,” the Jewish leaders could persuade the people that He was cursed by God and therefore not the Messiah.

So Annas and Caiphas are both illegal and immoral in their treatment of Jesus. But far from preventing God from accomplishing His purpose, God accomplished His purpose through their activity!

John emphasizes this in 18:32 (read). It was actually God’s will for His Messiah to be crucified and go under God’s curse. Jesus had already said that He must be killed by crucifixion and cursed by God (read Jn.3:14,15; “lifted up” is an idiom for crucifixion; the snake was a symbol of God’s judgment). Why? So that Jesus could bear the curse of God that is on us because of our violations of God’s law (read Gal.3:13).

How ironic! Instead of refuting Jesus’ claim to be Messiah by crucifying Him, they wound up validating His claim!

Jesus before Pilate

This same ironic theme continues in Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Read 18:33-19:16. You can see from that Pilate knew that Jesus did not deserve to be executed. Yet he knowingly violated his own conscience (and ignored a warning from his wife to leave Jesus alone – see Matt.27:19), and sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. Why did he cave into the Jewish leaders’ pressure to execute Jesus? The answer is: to preserve his career.

The critical moment is when the Jewish leaders made the threat in 19:12. It was when Pilate “heard these words” that he sentenced Jesus to crucifixion, pathetically washing his hands of any moral responsibility (Matt.27:24). The term "friend of Caesar" (Latin: amicus Caesaris) is a technical term reserved for senators and administrators who were meritorious and thus favored by the emperor. To lose this title was to lose not only one’s post, but also to possibly be completely ostracized from Roman life. The Jews were saying: “If you don’t crucify this man, we will send a formal complaint to Rome and you will be in hot water with your boss.” Pilate literally sacrificed Jesus on the altar of his career!

So here is Pilate throwing Jesus under the bus, yet far from this preventing God from accomplishing His purpose, God accomplished His purpose through Pilate’s immoral activity. Consider these ironies:

Pilate offered to honor the tradition of releasing a prisoner on Passover, hoping that the Jewish crowds would ask for Jesus to be released (18:38-40). But this backfired; they instead demanded that Barabbas (a murderer – Mk.15:7) be released instead of Jesus. Do you see how this prefigures God’s plan? Barabbas, a man who deserves to die, is released from his capital punishment because Jesus, an innocent man, dies in His place.

John is careful to note the exact time when Pilate sentenced Jesus to death –on the day of Preparation of the Passover, on the sixth hour (19:14). This was the very hour that the priest began to slaughter the Passover lambs in the Temple. This ritual foreshadowed God’s plan to provide a blameless Substitute whose death would pay for our sins. Jesus is God’s Passover lamb (1Cor.5:7; Jn.1:29), and Pilate sentenced Him at exactly the right time to fulfill Passover!

What’s the point? The point is that no one could prevent God from accomplishing His plan to offer forgiveness through Jesus. Not Annas, not Pilate, not Judas, not Satan – they all played right into God’s hands. But this does not mean that people are simply pawns to God. We can choose how we will respond to God’s plan—either to receive the forgiveness He offers us through Jesus, or to reject it and face God’s judgment.

The real tragedy with people like Annas and Pilate (and Judas) is not that they unjustly condemned Jesus. Theirs were terrible sins, but Jesus’ death paid even for them! The real tragedy is that they (to our knowledge) refused to humble themselves to ask Him for forgiveness.

Don’t make the same mistake! Jesus’ death is more than adequate to forgive any and all of your sins except for one – the sin of refusing to ask for His forgiveness (read Jn.3:17,18).

2 mandates for Jesus’ followers

Now let’s look at two of the things Jesus said during these trials. These statements have a significance beyond their original context; they are important mandates for all of Jesus’ followers.

Do you remember how Jesus responded to Annas’ question about His teaching (read 18:20,21)? There was no “public-private” dichotomy in the content of Jesus’ teaching. He had nothing to hide—no secret message or hidden agenda. And neither should we.

Most religions or sects have a part of their beliefs and/or practices (usually the most important part) to which only certain people have access (e.g., ancient mystery cults; Masons; Mormons?; many cults). Part of the appeal is that only insiders are “in the know.” But Christianity is not that way. The gospel is a mystery in the sense that no one expected God to give His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins, but the only thing that restricts access to it is people’s willingness to listen to it and consider it. This why Paul said 2Cor.4:2 (read).

This is one reason why we go through whole books of the Bible in meetings like this one. This is why we field questions after teachings. This is why the only restrictions on our classes are course pre-requisites (like college course pre-requisites) or practice requirements (like leadership classes for people who are willing to become leaders). This is why we have open accounting books. This is why we should be up front about our hope that people will come to Christ rather than “love bomb” them or “bait and switch” them (EXAMPLES?).

Do you remember how Jesus responded to Pilate’s question about whether He was a King (read 18:36,37). Jesus never used force (military or political) to defend or advance His kingdom, and He forbade His followers from doing this (e.g., 18:11). During this age, His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, never to be identified with any nation or army or political party. Rather, we are to “testify to the truth”—to try to persuade people that Jesus is the Messiah, and to urge them to freely choose to receive and follow Him.

This is why every time the church has used civil governments to spread or defend Christendom, the result has been an unmitigated disaster that has shamed the name of Christ (e.g., CATHOLIC INQUISITION & CRUSADES; PROTESTANT PERSECUTION OF CATHOLICS). One of our founding fathers, James Madison, underscored this point: “During almost fifteen centuries the legal establishment of Christianity has been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”

This is why, as Jesus’ followers, we should be far more focused on sharing our faith than on advancing our political positions. We have the freedom to hold our own political opinions, and to discuss them from others. But we should always subordinate this to our mission of loving all kinds of people and helping them toward Jesus regardless of their political positions. This is why Christians should never identify themselves with any political party (COLSON’S WARNING). This is why we don’t promote political parties or issues at meetings like this. This is why we won’t let Xenos members use official church communications to advance their political opinions. This is why I have reproved Xenos members for being more impassioned about political issues than about their neighbors’ souls. We are here, above all else, to testify about Jesus!

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Eerdmans, 1971), p.757.

See http://www.netbiblestudy.com/00_cartimages/illegaltrialofjesus.pdf. Other illegalities include: trial at night, on a Sabbath or holy day; trial before a sole judge, concluding a trial in one day; condemnation outside the Hall in the Temple; trial before a judge who is a known enemy.

A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 47n. "The connotation, originally political rather than personal in Republican usage, becomes markedly official in imperial documents, with the suggestion that so and so is the official representative of the Princeps (Emperor)."

For more on why Pilate responded this way, see Gary DeLashmutt, “Sejanus and the Chronology of Christ’s Death” at http://www.xenos.org/essays/sejanus.htm

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Doubleday, 1970), XIII-XXI, Vol. 2, p.895.

Quoted in John Seel and Os Guinness, ed., No God But God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), p.69.