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John 18:28-19:16a

“Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to [the crowd], ‘Behold the man!’ ” (19:5).

Make a list of the most important figures in the history of redemption. Who appears on it? Certainly you have listed Old Testament figures such as Moses and David. Paul and Peter probably appear as well, not to mention Jesus, the figure around whom all redemptive history is centered. But do not forget Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. The crucifixion makes Pilate such an important figure in the history of salvation that he is one of the few people named explicitly in ecumenical confessions such as the Apostles’ Creed.

All four Gospels describe Jesus’ meeting with Pilate, but John’s gospel is particularly detailed in its description of this event. There is much in the encounter that merits our attention, but first let us consider Pilate’s words “Behold the man!”(John 18:5). Over the centuries, many theologians have said that when Pilate spoke those words, he was not merely offering a condemned man to the crowd. Instead, he was also unknowingly speaking a divine truth, as some pagans did during the Old Testament period (for example, Num. 22–24). In saying “Behold the man!” these Christian thinkers have argued, Pilate emphasized the incarnation and its role in our redemption. Because sin entered the world through a man, Adam, only a man serve as our Savior (Gen. 3; Phil. 2:5–11). Only a man can atone for the sins of other human beings. Though the mediator between God and man had to be truly divine as well, it took a second Adam to reconcile us to our Creator and reveal the nature of true humanity (Rom. 5:12–21).

Certainly, Pilate had little, if any understanding that Jesus claimed to be God incarnate. Nevertheless, this did not excuse Pilate for handing Jesus over for crucifixion. He willingly put an innocent man to death for the sake of political expediency. He was more concerned with his own personal safety than with justice and truth (John 19:1–16). Consequently, the second thing to focus on in Jesus’ encounter with Pilate is how Pilate stands in stark contrast to our Savior.

Above all else, Jesus proclaimed, defended, and acted upon the truth (John 18:37). Truth was so important to Him that He preferred to hand Himself over to the authorities and suffer for the truth rather than cease His mission (v. 36; 19:11; see 10:17). He was willing to endure conflict if it was necessary to preserve the truth.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Pilate’s question “What is truth?” also betrays his lack of concern for the facts (John 18:38). Fallen people are willing to bend the truth in order to advance or protect themselves. Christians, however, must not imitate their example. Let us always love the truth and proclaim it even when it is not convenient for us.

For Further Study
  • Jeremiah 28
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:9–12
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From the May 2017 Issue
May 2017 Issue