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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Jesus Is Handed Over to Pilate by the Jewish Opponents (18:28-32)
Jesus Is Handed Over to Pilate by the Jewish Opponents (18:28-32)

Jesus is brought to Pilate at the praetorium (NIV, the palace of the Roman governor, v. 28), which was located either at the Antonia Fortress at the northwest corner of the temple or, perhaps more likely, at Herod's old palace to the west of the temple, near the Jaffa gate (Pixner 1992; Brown 1994:1:705-10). The opponents bring him early in the morning, which would not have inconvenienced Pilate because it was common for Roman officials to begin work very early and complete their business by ten or eleven in the morning (Sherwin-White 1963:45).

The Jewish opponents refuse to enter the praetorium to avoid ceremonial uncleanness (v. 28). There is no law in the Old Testament against entering a Gentile's home, but in later teaching it is laid down that "the dwelling-places of gentiles are unclean" (m. Oholot 18:7; cf. Brown 1994:1:745; Beasley-Murray 1987:327). The opponents sought to avoid defilement because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover (v. 28). Since Jesus has already eaten with his disciples a meal that the Synoptics say was the Passover (Mt 26:17 par. Mk 14:12 par. Lk 22:8; 22:15), this verse raises questions. Many interpreters argue either that John has shifted the chronology in order to have Jesus dying at the very time the Passover lambs are being sacrificed—making the point dramatically that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (for example, Lindars 1972:444-46; Barrett 1978:48-51)—or that his chronology is historically accurate (especially Brown 1994:2:1351-73; cf. Robinson 1985:147-51) and therefore the meal he shared with his disciples was not Passover.

Others have attempted to maintain that the meal in all four Gospels is the Passover. One solution suggests that John is referring here not to the Passover meal itself, but to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a week-long celebration that took place in conjunction with it. This longer celebration can be referred to as Passover, as it is, for example, in Luke: "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching" (22:1; cf. Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 14.21). These Jewish opponents, then, wish to be able to take part in the seven-day feast about to begin (cf. Carson 1991:589; Ridderbos 1997:457). Alternatively, some suggest that "John has in mind the lunchtime meal known as the chagigah, celebrated during midday after the first evening of Passover" (Blomberg 1987:177). But although the term Passover may be applied to the whole sequence, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the expression "eat the Passover" is not a natural way to refer to keeping the whole feast nor to eating the chagigah, but rather a way to refer to the Passover meal specifically. For example, the references in the Synoptics just cited use exactly the expression here (esthio to pascha) to speak of sharing in the Passover meal. Furthermore, there is no evidence the term Passover was used to refer to the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from the Passover itself (Morris 1971:778-79, but cf. Blomberg 1987:177 n. 2).

Another solution to the discrepancy is that different calendars were followed. The main calendar used was a lunisolar calendar, but some groups, apparently including the community at Qumran, used a solar calendar of 364 days (cf. Schürer 1973-1987:1:587-601; Vanderkam 1992). The main drawback to this solution is the lack of evidence for Jesus' having followed the solar calendar (cf. Vanderkam 1992:820). The other main proposal is that the Galileans and the Pharisees reckoned days from sunrise to sunrise, while Judeans did so from sunset to sunset. This means the Judeans, including these opponents, would slaughter their lambs late Friday afternoon, whereas Jesus and his disciples had theirs slaughtered late Thursday afternoon (Hoehner 1977:83-90; cf. Morris 1971:782-85). It has also been suggested that the slaughtering of the lambs actually took place over two days because of the volume of lambs involved (Hoehner 1977:84). According to these solutions, Jesus has already eaten Passover, but the opponents have yet to do so. A major drawback to theories of different days for celebrating Passover is "the lack of any hint of such a distinction in the gospels themselves" (Blomberg 1987:176-77).

Whatever the solution to this puzzle, the irony of the opponents' concern is evident. They wish to remain ritually pure even while seeking to kill someone by the agency of the Romans. They avoid defilement while bringing about the death of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29), the root defilement that prevents one from intimacy with God and sharing in his life. Perhaps most ironic is the fact that their very act is a sin that defiles in this deep sense yet contributes to the cleansing of their sin and the sin of the whole world.

Pilate asks for the charges against Jesus (v. 29), and from the Jewish leaders' response it seems they were upset by this request: If he were not a criminal . . . we would not have handed him over to you (v. 30). They wanted Pilate simply to take their word for it and not begin his own investigation. Pilate is not inclined to do them such a favor and tells them to judge Jesus by their own law. In other words, if none of the charges mentioned are relevant to Roman rule, then this case is a matter for their own legal proceedings. A reluctance to get involved in matters of Jewish law was common among Roman governors (Sherwin-White 1965:112-13). It is unclear whether or not Pilate knew the opponents had already judged Jesus. John has omitted a description of the Jewish trial, but judging Jesus by their law is exactly what they have been doing throughout the Gospel.

Long before now they had come to the conclusion that Jesus had to be eliminated (7:19-20; 8:40, 44, 59; 10:31; 11:8, 16, 50). This is still their aim, and their specific request of Pilate now becomes clear when they respond that they do not have the right to execute people (v. 31). This could refer to Old Testament prohibitions against killing (Ex 20:13, Hoskyns 1940b:616; Michaels 1989:314), but more likely it refers to limitations imposed by the Romans (Brown 1994:1:747-48). Among the Romans, "the capital power was the most jealously guarded of all the attributes of government, not even entrusted to the principal assistants of the governors" (Sherwin-White 1963:36). There were occasions when Jews did put people to death through mob violence (for example the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:58-60). And they were given permission to execute any Gentile, even a Roman, who entered the temple's inner courts (Josephus Jewish Wars 5.193-94; 6.124-26). But mob violence has not succeeded against Jesus, and his case is not one for which Rome has given permission for execution. Presumably they could request permission to kill Jesus themselves, but this would limit them to the methods of stoning, burning, beheading and strangling, at least according to later law, which may have been in effect in the first century (m. Sanhedrin 7:1). They seem set, however, on having Rome execute Jesus, for then it would be by crucifixion. They probably want him crucified (19:6, 15) not only because it was a particularly brutal and painful form of death, but also because it would signify that Jesus is accursed by God (Deut 21:23; cf. Gal 3:13, Robinson 1985:257 n. 147; Beasley-Murray 1987:328). In John's Gospel the focus is on Jesus as the revealer of God. His opponents have rejected that claim and desire his death in order to vindicate their conclusion.

John, however, sees this desire as a fulfillment of Jesus' statement that he would die by being lifted up from the earth (v. 32; 12:32-34). "Both Jewish accusers and Roman judge are actors in a drama scripted by a divine planner" (Brown 1994:1:748). John's note reminds us both of Jesus' identity as the Word whose words are God's words, which will be fulfilled, and of the significance of this death: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (12:32). Even the actions of his enemies are used to bear witness to the glory of his identity and of what he is in the process of accomplishing.

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