Pilate Again Declares Jesus Innocent (19:4-8)

This second declaration of Jesus' innocence forms the fifth section of the chiasm (see introduction to 18:28—19:16), corresponding to the third section in which Pilate went out to the Jewish opponents and said he found no basis for a charge against Jesus (18:38b-40). This time he brings Jesus out with him—Jesus wearing the mocking signs of kingship and bearing the marks of the violence done against him. This very presentation of Jesus, with Pilate's dramatic words, Here is the man! (v. 5), could itself be a continuation of the mockery, as though Jesus is coming forth to be presented to his subjects as on some state occasion. But while Pilate is mocking Jesus and his fellow Jews he is also making the point that there is no basis for a charge against such a figure. Jesus may be dressed up as a king and a god (Hart 1952:75), but in Pilate's eyes he is only a man.

Once again we have an "unconscious prophet" (Westcott 1908:2:299), like Caiaphas (11:49-52) or the centurion in Mark's Gospel (Mk 15:39; cf. Bruce 1983:359). Several proposals have been made for the significance of Pilate's calling Jesus the man (cf. Barrett 1978:541; Brown 1994:1:827-28). One of the more likely proposals is Jesus' identity as the Son of Man, since Jesus had said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM" (8:28). Another possibility is an emphasis on Jesus' humanity: Jesus is indeed man (anthropos), for the Word became flesh (1:14). Since the real reason his opponents are against him is his claim to deity (19:7), we would have in Pilate's phrase references to both the humanity and the deity of Jesus. John may also see here allusions to Jesus as the last Adam, to use Paul's language (1 Cor 15:45), in keeping with similar possible allusions through the motif of the Garden (see comment on 18:1). This association with Adam is true, but since John does not make an explicit reference to him, we can't be sure he had it in mind here.

Pilate's bid to release Jesus is once again soundly rejected (v. 6a). The heart of the opposition to Jesus comes from the chief priests and their officials, and John singles these folk out as the ones crying, Crucify! Crucify! They want Jesus not merely dead, but crucified. The reason, most likely, is that this form of death was associated with the curse in the law against "anyone who is hung on a tree" (Deut 21:23, see comment on 18:32).

Pilate's little plan failed, so in exasperation he tells the leaders to take Jesus and crucify him themselves, since, as he says for the third time, he finds no charge against Jesus (v. 6). Pilate is trusting in political games rather than standing in integrity for what he knows to be true. When such people cannot control a situation they get frustrated and angry. He is not really offering them a chance to crucify Jesus themselves, and they understand that, as their actions show.

Pilate and the Jewish leaders are very agitated, but the appeal they both make is to law. According to Roman law Jesus is innocent, as Pilate has now said three times. But the leaders now assert that according to Jewish law (v. 7), Jesus must die because he claimed to be the Son of God (v. 7). This was the charge that was brought against Jesus at the trial before Caiaphas, though not recorded by John (Mt 26:63-66 par. Mk 14:61-64 par. Lk 22:67-71). The law they seem to have in mind says "anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death" (Lev 24:16). Later in the Mishnah blasphemy refers to pronouncing the divine name (m. Sanhedrin 7:5), but the concept was broader in the first century (cf. Robinson 1985:263). The claim to be a "son of God" is not necessarily a blasphemous claim to deity since the phrase was used in the Old Testament to describe beings other than God, in particular heavenly beings (Gen 6:2; Ps 29:1, obscured in the NIV) and the king of Israel (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:26-27; cf. Wülfing von Martitz et al. 1972:347-53). Since "son of God" was used of the king, the opponents are not now shifting away from the charge that Jesus claims to be king, as seen in their repetition of this charge later (v. 12). Rather, they are helping Pilate understand that there is a religious as well as a political dimension to the kingship of Jesus, and the religious aspect is the crucial one. Throughout the Gospel they have rejected Jesus' claims to a special relationship with God, and they have already threatened his life because of such claims (5:18; 8:58-59; 10:33, 36). It is his claim to be God's Son in a special sense that constitutes the blasphemy (10:36).

The opponents had not introduced this underlying problem to Pilate at first but rather couched it in its political form to get him to act. Even now their expression allows Pilate to read his own content into it. For they say Jesus claims to be "a son of God" (hyion theou). For a Roman, as for a Jew, this could be a political claim since the emperor could be referred to as "son of God" (theou hyios, divi filius). But Pilate does not treat it as such but rather, it seems, as a claim to be a "divine man" (theios aner, Dodd 1953:250-51). These "divine men" were Hellenistic religious philosophers who were "characterized by moral virtue, wisdom and/or miraculous power so that they were held to be divine" (Blackburn 1992:189). Pilate's response is fear (v. 8). Some think this fear is due to his realization that the situation is getting out of his control and that "he will not be able to escape making a judgment about truth" (Brown 1994:1:830; cf. Ridderbos 1997:602). But John says it was this saying (touton ton logon) about Jesus as Son of God that caused Pilate's fear (v. 8) and led him to ask Jesus where he is from (v. 9). So he is probably experiencing a fear of the divine, on top of all the other problems this situation entails for him. The discussion Pilate had just had with Jesus about his kingdom now begins to make more sense to Pilate. He must take Jesus back inside and explore this new dimension to his case.

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