A Judgment Seat Outside
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 19:12 (Holman) From that moment Pilate made every effort to release Him. But the Jews shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!”
Pilate was no match for the shrewd crowd. They knew his Achilles’ heel. When all other efforts failed, the crowd resorted to blackmail. If Pilate did not do his “duty” they would accuse him of being disloyal to Tiberius.
The threat was veiled, but real. Pilate knew what was being implied. If he did not crucify Jesus, effort would be made to impeach the Procurator.
A man of sterling integrity could have brushed aside this threat, but Pilate was haunted by a horrible past. Philo said Pilate was guilty of taking bribes, and of executing people without fair trials. The Governor was also an inept administrator, his tenure marked by one fiasco after another.
Pilate did not want his past closely scrutinized, especially not by Tiberius, whose suspicious nature made him universally feared by his subordinates. Tiberius was the step-son, adopted son, and son-in-law of Augustus. Tiberius served as the second emperor of Rome, 14-37 A.D.
At first Tiberius ruled well, but as time went by he became paranoid and ruthless. Infamous for punishing any deed that bordered on treason, Tiberius became notorious for executing people based solely on hearsay rather than in proven facts. As a result, Pilate was more afraid of Tiberius than of committing injustice.
Later, due to another incident, Pilate was ordered to stand trial in Rome before Tiberius. While on his way to Rome, Tiberius died. Tradition says Caligula banished Pilate to Gaul, where he committed suicide.
John 19:13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s bench in a place called the Stone Pavement (but in Hebrew Gabbatha).
Israelites would not pollute themselves by entering a Gentile building. Rome, as a courtesy to the Jews, had an outside Judgment seat in Jerusalem. This was the only place in the world where a Judgment seat was not in some kind of palace.
The Judgment seat was an elevated chair used as a tribunal from which official pronouncements were made. The trial ended in a dignified official manner. This climax had a formality about it which was unbecoming of such a travesty.
With great pomp Pilate sentenced an innocent man to death. All the official pronouncements in the whole world could not negate the fact the man on the Judgment seat was little more than an assassin.
The bottom line was, Pilate committed murder to keep his job. The Procurator did not have the backbone to risk his job for a Galilean peasant. Pilate decided it would be better to be a murderer than unemployed.
The religious leaders had saved the sharpest arrow in their quiver till last. With its thrust, Pilate became their impotent pawn. The shaft found an opening in Pilate’s armor and penetrated straight to his heart. The Governor reeled and fell as one shot through. The thought of being reported to Tiberius sent a shudder through Pilate that shook him into quick action.
Avoid the mistake of Pilate. Maintain integrity. Do not let truth be forfeited for the sake of expediency. Doing what is right often brings loss and suffering, but this is a small price to pay for a clear conscience.
John 19:14a It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about six in the morning.
John used Roman reckoning of time here. “The preparation” was the official name given to Friday, the day when Jews prepared for the Sabbath. The verdict was rendered near sunrise on the Friday of Passover week.
John 19:14b Then he told the Jews, “Here is your king!”
Pilate mocked the Jews. He was frustrated, bitter at their successful ploy. In anger, he began casting scorn on the crowd. He was jesting, saying this wounded peasant-prisoner was the kind of king they ought to have. He felt they deserved a king whose only crown was one made of thorns.
“Here is your King!” taunted Pilate. His words had a deeper meaning than the speaker himself realized. Though the people rejected Jesus, God saw to it that His Son was publicly declared to be the King of Israel! God again had a person speak words containing deeper truth than the speaker realized.
Caiaphas was thinking of political and social consequences when he stated it was expedient for one man to die for the people (John 18:14). He did not realize Jesus was dying for all humanity.
Pilate was thinking only in terms of criminal guilt when he thrice said of Jesus, “I find no fault in Him” (John 18:38; 19:4,6). The Governor had no idea Jesus was completely faultless, totally clean, absolutely sinless.
His words here were also truer than he realized. Jesus was as much a king as Tiberius. Jesus appeals to people’s hearts; Tiberius dazzled people’s eyes. Christ dealt in truth, Caesar in brute strength and carnage. Tiberius ruled with a scepter; Jesus used a cross as His passport into the throne of our hearts.
The kingdom of Tiberius has left behind only debris, ruins, and relics, but Christ’s kingdom remains strong and vibrant. He continues to hold sway over people. “His truth is marching on.”
Alexander the Great, before leaving Macedonia to invade the Persian Empire, gave away all his property. When a friend rebuked him for being foolish, Alexander replied, “I have reserved for myself much more than I gave away. I have kept for myself the hope of universal monarchy.” Alexander left his past behind that he might rule the world. Similarly, Christ gave up the glories of Heaven to die on a cross that He might be the ruler of all people.