Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.—John 18:31–32
The Sanhedrin no doubt think themselves so shrewd, and Pilate so practical, but it is the soon to be crucified King who rules the day. As you read this account of Jesus’ trial, do you feel more pity or awe? John wrote this gospel, he tell us, “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:30). This too is written for that purpose. John has not mistakenly lapsed into an episode contrary to his aim. If you read John’s account of Jesus’ trial as John intends you too, it is not sorrowful pity, but faith-filled awe that overwhelms you.
The Jews say Jesus deserves death because He has blasphemed (19:7). But they know this won’t fly with Rome, so they present the Jewish hope of the Messiah as their accusation against Jesus. This is why Pilate asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” With this, they don’t eradicate His claims. They establish them. The Sanhedrin is not shrewd; the Savior is sovereign. No one takes His life. He lays it down of His own accord (John 10:18). This is all so that Jesus might die just as He has said (v. 32).
“‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32–33).
Do not pity Jesus as a helpless victim of wicked men. Yes, these men were wicked, but their wickedness didn’t carry the day. Do not pity Jesus, stand in awe of Him. Believe in Him.
Pilate says He find no guilt in Jesus. That should be the end of this trial. “Not guilty.” But Pilate is not principled. He is pragmatic. He is practical. Jesus just doesn’t work for Pilate and Pilate is concerned about what works. So too are the Jews. But Pilate will lose his position. The Jews will lose their nation. Jesus will rise and rule from the right hand of the Father. “What is truth?” Pilate asks. Truth is a Who and He is bearing witness to Himself before Pilate. Deny this witness, and however things may work out for you immediately, they will not work out for you in the end.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2).
Yes, Jesus suffered—He suffered the worst injustice. Yes, He was innocent and sinned against violently. Yes, He was a man of sorrows. But do not pity Him. Marvel at the King who came to die not only at the hand of sinners, but also in the stead of sinners. The problem with pity is that you do not trust someone you simply pity. You do not look to them for help; you try to help them. Sinner, do not pity Jesus as a mere man who suffered wrongly, a victim of gross injustice. No, marvel at Him as God the Son incarnate, the King, come to die in the stead of sinners so that they might be counted righteous. Marvel at Him and believe and have life in His name.