The whole exchange between Jesus and Pilate, the Roman governor to whom the Jewish authorities brought Jesus, is a revealing one. In it, Pilate — a representative of the ruling government of the Roman Empire under the rule of the king, Caesar — meets up with another king, Jesus, supposed King of the Jews. Pilate initially thinks Jesus may be the king, not of the Jews, but of a small uprising.
Pilate begins this interrogation as if he was bothered by this apparent insurrection of the Jewish sect that has gotten a lot of his subjects riled up. He hopes to be done with this thing in short order, but he is about to run into the power, not of the empire, or even an insurrection in the empire, but a much greater power, the power of truth and the power of God over all things. In most of our Bibles, this part of the story is subtitled: “Jesus before Pilate.” It really should be: “Pilate before Jesus.”
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” (John 18:33-34)
Wait a minute. Who’s questioning who here? Pilate has his hands full. He’s starting to get nervous. This is why people said of Jesus all along, “No one ever spoke like this man.”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18:35-38)
Indeed, Pilate is asking the right question, it’s just that he, in his present state of unbelief, would not be able to understand the answer if it was given to him.
What a picture this is. Jesus, the Son of God, is in chains in front of a middle-manager who thinks he has the power of the empire behind him, but he is just a little man caught between worlds, and he, like everybody else right then, doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on.
Jesus was there to be judged as one claiming to be the King of the Jews, but He is not just King of the Jews, nor did He ever claim to be. He is the King of the world. King of the cosmos. King of the universe. KING OF ALL KINGS. But nobody knows that. Pilate doesn’t know it. The Jews don’t know it. The disciples and the followers of Jesus don’t know it, at least not yet. Oh, they’ve had glimpses of it in the way Jesus has commanded the wind and the waves, the demons, the carriers of disease, and even death itself. All have come under His power. They’ve seen this, but they haven’t put it all together yet — they don’t get it until after the resurrection when they have had time to figure out who they’ve really been with for the last three years, Right then, it’s all happening too fast for anyone to figure out.
“Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
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.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free. (John 19:8-12)
This is the big power question. Pilate tries to establish his power to free or crucify Jesus, and Jesus makes it clear that there is something far greater than the vested power of Pilate’s position which he assumes is the highest in the land. There is something far higher than all of that. He is but a pawn in a much bigger game he can’t see or understand.
Poor Pilate. He is a very nervous man caught between two worlds. He runs out to the people and back to Jesus, and out to the people and back to Jesus. No wonder his only resolve is to wash his hands of the whole thing.
God is using the Jewish leaders, the people they are stirring up, the whole Roman Empire, and Pilate himself to crucify His only begotten Son for the sins of the whole world, and nobody gets it. That’s what is truly amazing about this whole story.