The ebb and flow of my life into and out of political circles has allowed me at times to see and hear some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on within what is truly an often ugly world.
“Whipping” the vote is not an action limited to one party, but being on the inside of a minority party, I would hear from my own guys about what was really going on “on the other side.” There were times when it would seem that some of them would vote with us on a particular moral matter – as personally they agreed with our position and were convinced by the truth of the argument. But when their leadership realized they were critical swing votes hanging in the balance, they were called in, sat down, and read the riot act as to what would happen to them if they did not “go along with the team” and vote against their personal convictions. They were told they had NO future to ever hold any positions of influence or leadership, and that they would not be supported at all in future primaries or elections, etc. Ultimately, the pressure was too much to bear, and they would cave in to it and vote opposite their personal beliefs.
This is essentially what happens to Pontius Pilate. He never comes to a point of truly believing that Jesus is guilty of a capital offense. But the Jews knew how to up the pressure. When their desire to see blood was not satiated by the horrors of a Roman flogging (that often did kill people), they pressed for crucifixion – a death generally reserved for the worst criminals, especially revolutionaries.
The Jewish argument was essentially that if Pilate allowed Jesus to go free, he was not a friend of Caesar … and that was scary. The current Caesar – Tiberius – was a sickly, violent, whacky guy not known for patience with uprisings. With Pilate facing the choice of following conviction to save some Jew he had no prior connection with, or having news of a riotous and ugly event in Jerusalem getting to the ears of Tiberius … well, Jesus was now headed for the cross. And of course, all of this was in the larger picture well within the sovereign hands of God.
John records some ironic statements (which he liked doing – like mentioning how Caiaphas said it was better for one person to die for the nation). Here in this passage we see the chief priests claiming they had no king but Caesar (a ridiculous statement given their values and beliefs), and we see Pilate calling Jesus the King of the Jews (which of course Christ is, though neither Pilate nor the religious establishment believed such a thing).
It was American essayist Charles Dudley Warner who wrote “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Never was that more true than in the crucifixion of Christ … and our sins contributed to the crowed bed.
Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.