Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“Pilate Handed Jesus Over to be Crucified”

John Chapter 19

After Pilate told the crowds he found no issues with Jesus, he had him flogged. The soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head and dressed him in a purple robe. After the flogging, Pilate took Jesus out to the people and said once again that he found no fault. Then why are you flogging and hitting him, Pilate, if you found no fault in him? Pilate may not have held the whip that hit Jesus, but he gave the instructions to make it happen, making him just as guilty (my emphasis). According to Boring and Craddock, “Pilate is pictured as shuttling back and forth between the Jews outside, who call for Jesus’ death, and Jesus himself, who he knew to be innocent.”[i] The police and chief priests shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate kept reiterating that he found no fault in Jesus. The Jews kept saying, that according to their law, “He should die because he made himself the son of God.” John used Pilate to illustrate that, in view of the incarnation, there can be no neutral ground. Either God has come to the world in the Christ event, or God has not done so…to attempt to be neutral or to avoid a decision is already to be on the wrong side.[ii] 

It should be noted that Pilate may be trying to get sympathy from Jesus’ accusers when he shouts, “Here is the Man!” On another level, he declares a profound truth – here is a truly human being, man as he was created to be, the one made in God’s image and truly obedient to God, the only one of whom this can be said without qualification.[iii] As the Jews kept insisting that Jesus had broken a Jewish law by making himself a King, “there is no specific law in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition that forbids one from claiming to be a son of God…this title was often used by Jewish Kings. Their objection is that Jesus ‘claimed to be or made himself, literally made himself to be,’ which is a misunderstanding of Jesus, who repeatedly asserted that he does not make himself out to be anything.”[iv]

Pilate, afraid, went back to Jesus and asked him, “Where are you from?” This time, Jesus did not answer him. “There are two levels here in John’s literary critique. At one level, it is a normal administrative question to an accused suspect. On a deeper level, origin determines nature and character; Pilate suspects he may be dealing with someone not from this world.”[v] He wanted Jesus to know that he had the power to release him or the power to crucify him. This time, Jesus answered and said, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” “Jesus agrees that Pilate has power, but rather than intimidating Jesus, this fact serves to point out Pilate’s own responsibility when he decides not to release Jesus. In John’s eyes, Pilate is also guilty, despite his placing the principal blame on the Jews”[vi]  (what I said above). Pilate, from that point on, did everything in his power to release him. The crowd warned him that if he released Jesus, then he would not be a friend of the emperor.

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out again and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called “The Stone Pavement,” or in Hebrew “Gabbatha” (first time seeing this). It is unclear whether Pilate sat on the judges’ bench or whether he sat Jesus on the Judges’ seat. “Whether Pilate intentionally seated Jesus on the judges’ bench, it is mockery. And the scene profoundly ironical. If Pilate is on the judges’ seat, it portrays his real judge standing before him and himself as the prisoner. If Jesus is seated on the bench, then Pilate continues his mockery…Jesus is the one who exercises the final judgement.”[vii] Pilate presented to the Jews their King. The Jews wanted him crucified and shouted, “Away with him!” Pilate asked again, “Shall I crucify your King?” They shouted that they have no king but the emperor. “In this climatic irony, when John portrays the Jewish leaders as proclaiming that Caesar is their only King, they are more Roman than the pagan governor Pilate.”[viii] 

Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. The word “handed over” is the same word used when Judas handed Jesus over; the same word used when Pilate handed Jesus over, and God’s handing over the suffering servant to die for the sins of others (Is. 53:12).[ix] Ultimately, God handed God over to be crucified, and by all who reject him. It is important to note that John’s account of the crucifixion and burial, while parallel in some ways, is a different account from the synoptics. John wishes to emphasize Jesus’ deity, with truly human characteristics, with a few variations in his narration.[x] 

It was about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover (the synoptics gospels would have Jesus crucified at 9:00 a.m. according to Roman time). So, they took Jesus out, made him carry his own cross to a place called Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” “John avoids presenting the weak, victimized, crucified Jesus, and replaces him with the strong, triumphant Jesus, who goes resolutely to death as his own act.”[xi] They crucified him between two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. “John does not dwell on the grim details of Jesus death…but faith in God’s act in the Christ event as a whole, climaxed in the self-giving love manifest in his death.”[xii]

Pilate  had an inscription made to put on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The chief priests of the Jews said, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but this man said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” The soldiers divided his clothes; the tunic was seamless, so they cast lots for it to see who would get it. This fulfilled the scripture which said, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple that he loved, he said, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” These are Jesus’ first words from the cross. “The cries of despair of Mark and Matthew cannot be combined with the calm assurance of the Johannine Jesus. This scene is unique to John, sometimes seen as symbolism – the anonymous mother of Jesus (the people of God or Jewish Christianity) is committed by him to the ideal disciple, representing Gentile Christianity (also see Rev. 12:1).”[xiii]

When Jesus knew that his hour had come, he said, “I am thirsty.” They gave him some wine on a branch of hyssop. Hyssop was a small flower-like plant tied in bunches to brush or sprinkle blood on the doorposts in Egypt. John inserts this to correspond to his understanding that “Jesus is the Lamb of God, who dies at the time of the Passover lambs are being slain.”[xiv] After Jesus took it, he said, “It is finished.” He bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Because of the day of preparation, they asked if the bodies could be taken down – they did not want them left on the cross because the Sabbath was a great day of solemnity. The soldiers broke the legs of the ones next to Jesus, but when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead. One soldier pierced his side, and out came blood and water. “Blood and water point to the two Christian sacraments of Eucharist (blood), and water (baptism), both of which are here grounded in the reality of Jesus’ death.”[xv] The one who saw this testified, and his testimony is true (Tearing up as I write this one.).

Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Nicodemus was also there (we remember Nick don’t we); he brought mixtures of aloe and myrrh. They prepared his body according to the custom of the Jews. “The extravagant amount given for the spices portrays Jesus as having been given a royal burial commensurate with his role as King of Israel.”[xvi] There was a garden in the place where he was crucified, along with a new tomb in which no one had ever laid. Because it was the day of preparation, and it was near, they laid his body there.

Boring and Craddock affirmed that the description of Jesus’ tomb (near the city) fits the traditional location of the crucifixion now enshrined within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was just outside the walls of the ancient city (inside the preset city walls). It does not fit the Garden Tomb site near the Jerusalem bus station; a modern identification of the site shown to tourists.[xvii] I was one of those tourists as I reflect on my visit to Jerusalem in 1996. We toured the place of the Holy Sepulcher in the Holy City and the Garden Tomb site. We were encouraged to consider both places where Jesus’ body could have been laid. The tour guide shared, “You have to decide for yourself, the authentic site of his burial.”  It was the Garden Tomb for me, surrounded by 2,000+ year old olive trees.


[i] Boring and Craddock, pg. 350.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid., 351.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid., 352.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid., 353.

[xiii] Ibid. 354.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid., 355.

[xvii] Ibid., 353.