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John 19:4-5 meaning

"Behold the Man!" Following Jesus's flogging, Pilate reminds the crowds of Jesus's innocence before dramatically bringing the bloodied Prisoner out of the Praetorium for the crowds to see. He tells them "Behold the Man!" Pilate apparently hopes that the severity with which Jesus has been punished will appease the crowd and let the governor release Jesus without further incident. Additionally, Pilate's statement: "Behold the Man!" also has multiple significant spiritual meanings.This event is part of the third phase of Jesus's Civil Trial. This phase is called: "Pilate's Judgment." 

While there are no clear parallels of this event in the Gospel accounts, Matthew 27:23b, Mark 15:14b, Luke 23:23a seem to be more generic descriptions of this moment.

This moment most likely occurred as the latter half of the third phase of Jesus's civil trial.

The three phases of Jesus's civil trial were:

  1. Jesus's Arraignment before Pilate (Matthew 27:1-2, 11-14, Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-7, John 18:28-38)
  2. Jesus's Audience before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:8-12)
  3. Pilate's Judgment (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 18:38 - 19:16)

The third phase of Jesus's civil trial was at the Praetorium, Pilate's Jerusalem headquarters (John 18:28, 19:9). This phase began while it was still morning, most likely sometime around 8:00 a.m. (According to Mark 15:24, Jesus is on the cross at 9:00 a.m.). According to the Jewish calendar, the date was likely Nisan 15—the first day of Unleavened Bread. By Roman reckoning the day was most likely a Friday.

To learn more about the timing and sequencing of these events, see The Bible Says' "Timeline: Jesus's Final 24 Hours."

After Jesus had been scourged on Pilate's order (Luke 22:22, John 19:1), and after He was mocked as "King of the Jews" by the Roman legionnaires (Matthew 27:27-30, Mark 15:16-19, John 19:2-3), Pilate came out of the Praetorium again (v 4a) to appeal to the Jews for Jesus's release. 

Pilate's Fourth Declaration of Jesus's Innocence
The Roman governor of Judea said to them, "Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him" (v 4b). 

Pilate used the word, Behold, because he wanted the crowd to take special notice to the fact that he had found no guilt in Jesus. The governor seems to have been emphasizing this before he presented Jesus's mutilated figure to them so they would appreciate Pilate's extraordinary gesture and accept this severe scourging as an alternative to crucifixion. 

This was Pilate's fourth declaration of Jesus's innocence since the chief priests and elders first brought Jesus to him earlier that morning. 

  • Pilate's first declaration of Jesus's innocence came after he investigated the charges by personally interviewing Jesus in the first phase of His civil trial (Luke 23:4, John 18:38b).
  • Pilate's second declaration of Jesus's innocence came at the beginning of the third phase of the civil trial, when Jesus was sent back to him from Herod. The governor reminded the Jews that neither he, nor the Galilean tetrarch had found any guilt in Him (Luke 23:14-15).
  • Pilate's third declaration of Jesus's innocence came after the crowds surprised him by demanding that Barabbas be released under the governor's "Passover Pardon"—and Jesus crucified (Luke 23:22). 

These declarations of Jesus's innocence by Pilate roughly correspond to the governor's various attempts to calm the crowd from their fury so Pilate could release Him without any blowback. 

Thus far, Pilate had: 

  • offered to scourge Jesus, despite His innocence (Luke 23:16); 
  • offered to use his customary "Passover Pardon" to release Him (Matthew 27:15-18, Mark 15:6-11, Luke 23:17-21, John 18:39-40); 
  • and now had followed through on his previous offer and had Jesus scourged (Luke 23:22, John 19:1).

Pilate's announcement: Behold I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him was part of his third attempt to have Jesus released. (Pilate's third attempt began when Pilate had Jesus scourged to appease the crowd; now he was attempting to consummate it by bringing Jesus out for the crowds to behold and be satisfied.)

(Also note: Pilate's declarations of Jesus's innocence and his attempts to release Jesus are not the same thing.) 

The Roman soldiers brought Jesus out of the Praetorium for the crowd to see:

Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe (v 5a).

He would have been bloodied and badly disfigured from the scourging. In the words of Isaiah, the prophet: 

"His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men."
(Isaiah 52:14b)

Jesus was still wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe in which the legionnaires had dressed Him as part of their cruel charade mocking Him as falsely claiming to be "the King of the Jews" (John 19:2-3). But this King, as Isaiah prophesied, had: 

"no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men."
(Isaiah 53:2b-3a)

It was a terrible sight to behold

Jesus was "like one from whom men hide their face" (Isaiah 53:3b).

But Pilate wanted them all to behold what their hatred of this innocent Man had pressured him to do to Jesus. The politically insecure governor apparently wanted them to see this horrific sight so that they would not be angry at him when he released Jesus instead of crucifying Him, as they had been demanding. 

Behold the Man!
Pilate said to them, "Behold, the Man!" (v 5b).

The governor's dramatic presentation of the mutilated prisoner appears to have been a strategic attempt to release Jesus without incurring a riot from the Jews. Pilate could crucify an innocent man without getting in trouble with his Roman overlords. But if he was unable to keep the peace, that might end his political career. This tension was likely well known to the Jewish leaders attempting to get Jesus crucified. 

It was quite the moment within Jesus's trial, where Pilate appears to be doing all he can to release Jesus while preventing a riot. Perhaps Pilate referred to Jesus as the Man to call to attention that the bloodied and scourged figure they were about to see was in fact a real and living man as opposed to some non-human horror. 

But Pilate's theatrical statement: "Behold the Man!" seems to have implications far beyond what even he had in mind. 

Three of these implications are: 

1.) Jesus as the God-Man
2.) Jesus as the Second Adam
3.) Jesus as the Lamb of God

1. Jesus as the God-Man

The first spiritual implication of Pilate's statement involves the paradoxical nature of Jesus as both God and Man

Behold the Man! explicitly describes Jesus as a human being. 

Recall how John's Gospel introduced Jesus as God with the very first verse. John demonstrated how Jesus existed as the Word in the very beginning—before Creation itself:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him."
(John 1:1-3a)

Soon after telling us these things, John revealed that this same Word, who was God, "became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14)—that is God became a human being—the Man, Jesus Christ.

Pilate's statement: Behold the Man! is John's way re-emphasizing Jesus's humanity, in this his Gospel which so often stresses Jesus's deity (John 1:1, 1:17, 3:13, 3:16, 4:29, 5:18, 6:35, 8:12, 8:58-59, 9:35-38, 10:9, 10:11, 10:31-33, 11:25, 14:6, 14:9, 15:1, 17:5, 18:6, 20:31).

Jesus is, paradoxically, the God-Man. Jesus is the founding paradox of Christianity and reality. 

To learn more about Jesus as the Founding Paradox, see The Bible Says article: "Founding Paradox."

2. Jesus as the Second Adam

The second theological implication of Pilate's statement: "Behold the Man!" alludes to Jesus's role as the second Adam.

Adam was the first man God created. He and his wife Eve are the parents of the entire human race. Adam and Eve were created in God's image and given dominion and stewardship over God's very good creation. But Adam and Eve rebelled against God's good command and introduced sin and death into the world when they ate from the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:6).

Until Jesus, no one in history had seen or beheld an unblemished man since the time before Adam sinned. Jesus was the perfect ManMan as He was intended and designed to be—an obedient servant who worked and collaborated in perfect harmony with his Creator. When Pilate declared of Jesus, "Behold the Man!" he was introducing a perfect Man whom no one had ever seen the like of before except in Jesus

Concerning Adam and the ramifications of his disobedience, the apostle Paul wrote: "…through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12), and "…by the transgression of the one the many died…" (Romans 5:15).

The reason God became Man in the birth of Jesus, was to enlighten every man and save the world from perishing as a result of Adam's sin and the influence of evil in God's good creation (John 1:9, 3:16-19). 

We can observe that the Man, Jesus, was both unlike as well as like the man, Adam.

The Man, Jesus, was unlike the man, Adam, in that Jesus remained without sin throughout His entire life. He perfectly obeyed God's will in every aspect of His life (Matthew 5:17-18, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). Four times Pilate had already declared: I find no guilt in Him. Unlike the man Adam, who disobeyed God in the garden when he was tempted (Genesis 3:6), the Man Jesus denied Himself of His own desires and chose to submit to God's plan (Luke 22:42).

The Man, Jesus, was the perfect Man with no guilt in Him

Even though the Man Jesus was superior to the man Adam in regard to righteousness and harmony with God—each Man was like the other in at least one important aspect. Within each Man was the representative—"the type" (Romans 5:14)—the moral and spiritual bloodline for all humanity. 

Each Man set a pattern for humanity. 

The man Adam is humanity's default pattern. His pattern of independent-failure, defeat, and death that comes from insisting on following our own ways apart from God's (good) design. 

Because of Jesus's death and resurrection, the Man Jesus, can be an available pattern for every person. His pattern is God-dependent-success, victory, and life. Jesus's pattern becomes a possibility as a way to live, starting at the very moment a person believes in Him for who He is—God and our Savior (John 1:12, 3:16). Once a person has received this Gift of Eternal Life through simple faith and grace, they can follow Jesus's pattern and emulate His success by:

  • Abiding in Him (John 15:1-11
  • Walking by faith and not by the sight of their own perspective (2 Corinthians 5:7, James 1:5-8)
  • Continually choosing the Spirit over our flesh (Galatians 5:16
  • Fixing their eyes on Jesus and despising the shame (Hebrews 12:1-2
  • Overcoming life's trials by trusting God, as He overcame them (Revelation 3:21). 

Note that for the believer, Jesus's pattern of walking in life and harmony with God's (good) design is only available. It is not automatic. It must be chosen daily (Luke 9:23). A believer's mind and perspective must continually be renewed if they are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2).

The patterns of each Manthe man Adam and the Man Jesus—yield vastly different results.

The cursed inheritance of the man Adam was sin, death, and condemnation (Romans 5:14, 16a, 17a, 18a). The blessing of the inheritance of the Man Jesus is righteousness, eternal life, and reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10-11, 16, 17b, 18b, 8:17).

"For as through the one man's [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One [Jesus] the many will be made righteous…as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
(Romans 5:19, 21)

"The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven…Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly."
(1 Corinthians 15:47, 49)

Let us further compare and behold each Man side by side.

The disobedient man, Adam, tried to cover the shame of his sin with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). After he sinned, he hid from God (Genesis 3:8). He foolishly attempted to present himself as innocent despite his obvious guilt. Finally, the man Adam blamed God for his sin rather than confess and repent of it (Genesis 3:12). 

The obedient Man, Jesus, humbly wore the emblem of Adam's curse (Genesis 3:18)—the crown of thorns—on His head. Even though He was innocent of all charges, He did not hide when the authorities came to arrest Him (John 18:4-5). He was accused, treated, and even costumed as one who was guilty (John 18:30, 19:1-3) even though He was innocent and there was no guilt in Him (John 18:30, 19:1-3). Finally, the Man Jesus did not protest despite the slanderous accusations and unjust abuse He received (Isaiah 53:7, Matthew 26:62-63a, 27:12-14, Mark 14:61a, 15:4-5, Luke 23:9-10, John 19:9-10). 

Again: the Man, Jesus, and the man, Adam, were each a representative, type, and a progenitor of humanity. But the type and the pattern of each Man and their spiritual race was vastly different: 

"The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven…Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly."
(1 Corinthians 15:47, 49)

When Pilate (and John through his Gospel account) present Jesus and say, "Behold the Man!", He is the Man worth forever beholding. 

3. Jesus as the Lamb of God

The third spiritual implication of Pilate's statement: "Behold the Man!" alludes to Jesus's role as the Lamb of God.

Jesus's cousin, John the Baptist, dramatically points to Jesus as the Messiah when he was baptizing people in Bethany beyond the Jordan. 

"The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'"
(John 1:29)

John's similar phrasing of Pilate's: "Behold the Man!" and John the Baptist's: "Behold, the Lamb of God" (John 1:29) is likely intentional. They bookend the beginning and end of Jesus's public ministry. 

Moreover, as Pilate was speaking "Behold the Man!", Jesus was also being presented as a bleeding sacrifice as our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7b) during the time of the Passover holiday (John 18:39). In this exact moment through His suffering and death, Jesus was rendering "Himself as a guilt offering" (Isaiah 53:10) as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Isaiah said that the Messiah was "like a lamb that is led to slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7).

And in Revelation, an angel describes the resurrected Jesus as "a Lamb standing, as if slain" (Revelation 5:6a). It was by of the blood of His sacrifice (which was being made at the time Pilate was saying "Behold the Man!") that "men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" were "purchased for God" (Revelation 5:9).

To see how the Jews responded to Pilate's dramatic statement: "Behold the Man!" continue reading in the next section of commentary.

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