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John says virtually nothing about Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas, perhaps because the other gospel writers focused so much attention on it. After telling us in John 18:24 that Jesus was sent to Caiaphas, John only tells us about Peter’s denials. This leaves room to believe that Peter’s second and third denial may have occurred in front of Caiaphas. That would indicate that Peter stayed close to John and that all of the spectators had moved as a group to the house of Caiaphas.
The other gospels tell us that Jesus would say nothing in his defense while the witnesses against Him came forward with their contradictory evidence. Finally, Caiaphas adjured Jesus to speak the truth (Matt. 26:63), invoking the law in Lev. 5:1. This made it mandatory for Jesus to identify Himself as the Son of Man (i.e., the Messiah) “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). In His testimony, Jesus quoted Dan. 7:13, 14, telling the court that the prophet had spoken about Him.
In Luke 22:70 we read,
70 And they all said, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.”
Caiaphas, misusing the law, then convicted Jesus on the charge of blasphemy. Adjured testimony was supposed to be presumed to be true unless contested and proven to be false by other reliable witnesses. It is the same today with testimony that is taken under oath. But Caiaphas presumed that Jesus’ testimony was false, thereby contradicting the spirit and purpose of the law.
But then, Caiaphas’ night trial was also illegal by long-standing custom, so it is clear that he did not respect the law, nor was he an unbiased judge.
Having condemned Jesus to death on a charge of blasphemy, the Jews then sent Jesus to Pilate, because the Romans had reserved for themselves the right to impose the death penalty. Hence, Caiaphas needed Pilate’s ratification in order to carry out his sentence.
John 18:28 says,
28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled but might eat the Passover.
Dr. Ernest Martin says the Praetorium was actually Fort Antonia on the northwestern corner of the temple grounds, where the Roman soldiers could view the people below and thus maintain order.
“The Fortress of Antonia (named after Mark Antony by Herod) has by far the best credentials. There are good reasons to believe that it was to this Praetorium that Jesus was brought to be finally judged by Pilate” (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 123).
It was still “early” in the morning, but Luke 22:66 says that by the time they brought Jesus to Pilate, “it was day.” Pilate must have known that they had held an illegal nighttime trial. Furthermore, while he was hearing the case against Jesus, his wife sent him an urgent message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” (Matt. 27:19).
In the Gospel of Nicodemus, thought to be a fifth-century writing, she was identified by the name Procula (Latin) or Procla (Greek). She was said to be a believer in Christ, which may indeed be true, given Matthew’s record, though we do not know if her conversion took place before or after this trial. The Catholic Encyclopedia under the heading of “Pilate,” says of her,
“The belief that she became a Christian goes back to the second century, and may be found in Origen (Hom., in Mat., xxxv). The Greek Church assigns her a feast on 27 October.”
The Jewish leaders stood outside the Praetorium, for they believed that they would be defiled for seven days if they entered a Roman establishment. John says they did not want to disqualify themselves from eating the Passover the next evening. This is clear evidence that the Last Supper, eaten a few hours earlier, was not a Passover meal, as some have claimed.
In other words, Jesus’ arrest and trial took place the night before the people were to kill the Passover lambs on the afternoon of Abib 14.
John 18:29, 30 says,
29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.”
Matt. 27:18 tells us that Pilate “knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.” The Greek word phthonos, translated “envy” also means “jealousy or spite.” So Pilate’s skepticism must have been clearly discerned in his tone of voice, and for this reason Jesus’ accusers said, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.”
A charge of blasphemy would not have carried any weight with Pilate, so the Jews accused Jesus of sedition instead—which was not something He had been convicted of at their trial. Jesus had indeed claimed to be the Messiah (or Christ) by quoting the messianic prophecy in Daniel. The common view was that the Messiah was expected to overthrow the Romans, and so they used this mistaken view of prophecy to get Pilate to subscribe to their sentence.
The Jews accused Jesus of “forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). Jesus affirmed that He was indeed a King (Luke 23:3; Mark 15:2). So Pilate questioned Him further on this issue, as we will see shortly.
Pilate, meanwhile, knew they were just being spiteful and were jealous of Jesus’ popularity. It is clear from the biblical account that Pilate did not see Jesus as a threat. In fact, he sought to release Jesus, but in the end he was blackmailed into allowing them to crucify Him.
John 18:31, 32 says,
31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” 32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.
Biblical executions were usually done by stoning, while crucifixion was Roman. As it turned out, both were used in Jesus’ case. He and two thieves were taken to the Mount of Olives and nailed to a large tree near the main road, where those passing by could cast stones at them, aiming for the head and face. So Isaiah 52:14 prophesied, “His appearance [face] was marred more than any man.”
John tells us that Jesus had to be crucified, i.e., “lifted up,” in order to fulfill His own prophecy about His manner of death (John 3:14; 12:32, 33).
Pilate tried to question Jesus in front of the Jews, “but Jesus made no further answer” (Mark 15:5). Matt. 27:12 says, “while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer.” So Pilate decided to question Jesus privately. He summoned Jesus into the Praetorium, where the Jewish leaders would not enter on account of the Passover. John 18:33-35 continues,
33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”
The question of Jesus’ kingship was the most important concern to the Roman government. Was Jesus really a seditionist? Did Jesus claim a throne in opposition to Caesar? Pilate did not believe the accusations of the Jews, but he needed to probe deeper into this question.
John 18:36-38 says,
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.”
John is the only one to inform us of this conversation. Pilate was convinced that Jesus had not conspired against the Roman government. His kingdom was “not of this world” and was based upon “truth” rather than political power.
Pilate’s pronouncement, “I find no guilt in Him” fulfilled the prophetic law. A Passover lamb had to be “unblemished” (Exodus 12:5), as was the case with all the sacrifices. Although the high priest had pronounced Jesus guilty (i.e., blemished), Pilate had been given the word of the Lord.
So Judaism itself failed to recognize Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin. They did not believe that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53:12, “He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” This key issue lies at the heart of the difference between Judaism and (true) Christianity.
For this reason, the Jews did not treat Jesus’ death as a sacrifice but only as an execution of a blasphemer. Hence, they violated the law of sacrifice, wherein Lev. 17:3-6 commands that the blood of the sacrifice be sprinkled on the altar. The spiritual law demands that the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God should be sprinkled upon the altar of our hearts in order to apply its saving effect to all.
The penalty for failing to do this is “that man shall be cut off from among his people” (Lev. 17:4). So the law of God cut them off from being “Jews” (i.e., of Judah), as Paul tells us in Rom. 2:28, and as John affirms in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9. Only those who applied the blood of the Sacrifice to their hearts in a lawful manner would remain “Jews” in the sight of God. And anyone else who believes in Jesus Christ and the efficacy of His blood receive the “praise” of God (Rom. 2:29), for Judah means “praise.”
In other words, being a Jew is not a matter of race but of law. Genealogical Jews might be cut off from their people, and foreigners may become Jews by faith in Christ. The children of Abraham are not determined by bloodline but by following the example of Abraham in his faith (Gal. 3:9).
This was the answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”