*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

John 19:6-7 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • John 19:6
  • John 19:7

The Charge of Blasphemy

After Pilate brought the scourged and bloodied Jesus for the Jews to behold, the chief priests and temple officers lead the crowd to erupt in cries to crucify Him. Pilate is frustrated and tells them that he wants nothing to do with killing this innocent Man. The Jews counter by accusing Jesus of the religious crime of blasphemy and ask the Roman governor to execute Him according to their law. 

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 parallel accounts of this event in Gospel accounts, Matthew 27:23b, Mark 15:14b, and Luke 23:23a may be other Gospel descriptions of this moment. It is also possible that Matthew 27:24-25 is a parallel account of this moment.

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

This event is part of the third and final phase of Jesus’s civil trial and it is called: The Jews’ New Accusation of Jesus. It most likely occurred within the latter half of the third phase.

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 still morning, most likely sometime around 8:00 a.m. (Mark 15:24 informs us that Jesus was on the cross at 9:00 a.m.). According to the Jewish calendar, the date was Nisan 15—the first day of Unleavened Bread. By Roman metric, the day was probably a Friday.

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

In the previous sections of scripture (John 19:1-4), Pilate had Jesus scourged as part of an attempt to mollify the crowd so the governor could release Him without instigating an uprising.

Soon after Jesus was scourged, Pilate came back out of the Praetorium and reminded the Jews that Jesus was innocent of the charges before announcing “Behold the King of the Jews!” and bringing Him out for them to see His bloodied figure (John 19:5). Jesus was still wearing the crown of thorns and the robe which the Roman Legionnaires had dressed Him up in as part of their cruel charade (John 19:2-3). 

Pilate apparently hoped this horrific sight would pacify the crowd’s wish to have this innocent Man crucified. It did not.

The Jews’ Response to Pilate’s Theatrics
However, when the chief priests and the officers saw Him (Jesus), they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” (v 6a).

The chief priests and the officers were unmoved by Pilate’s declarations and gestures. They only wanted Jesus executed. Nothing less than His death under the Roman governor’s orders would satisfy them. It can be deduced that the chief priests reasoned that they could not risk Jesus being released, lest He go public with their illegal conspiracy and plot to kill Him, their illegal arrest, and their illegal trials in the middle of the night, their abuse of Him, and their slanders before Pilate

To see a list of the 18 laws the chief priests violated in their illegal condemnation of Jesus, see The Bible Says article, “Jesus’s Trial, Part 1. The Laws Broken by the Religious Leaders: A Summary.”

If the Jews knew that their leaders had done all of these things to the Man many of them hoped was the Messiah, then they would likely lose their power if not their lives. They feared Jesus’s influence would cause them to lose “our place in our nation” (John 11:48b). This was the reason the chief priests plotted to kill Him in the first place (John 11:53). But now, after their actions within the last twelve or so hours, there was no going back. By this point, the chief priests may have even believed that either Jesus would be crucified or they themselves would be crucified. This may have been the reason they continually cried out saying “Crucify, crucify!” 

The chief priests and officers may also have sensed or detected that Pilate was getting close to relenting and giving into their demands.

In Matthew and Mark’s condensed summaries of this moment, they each described how the crowds shouted with increasing intensity and fervor as the trial continued: “But they kept shouting all the more, saying, ‘Crucify Him!’” (Matthew 27:23b—See also Mark 15:14b).

John says that the officers were also shouting “Crucify, crucify.The officers likely refers to the armed temple officers. These officers were the Jewish law-enforcement personnel for the temple grounds. They were soldiers whose jurisdiction was confined to the temple. They managed the crowds and enforced the will of the chief priests at the temple. Some of these officers went with Judas, the religious leaders, and the Roman cohort when they went out to arrest Jesus. Apparently, the officers were following their superiors’ lead by calling for Pilate to crucify Jesus at His civil trial.

The chief priests and officers’ demand—“Crucify, crucify”—was a call for the Roman governor to execute Jesus by means of crucifixion. 

Roman crucifixion entailed fastening its victims to a raised wooden beam by the wrists (often with nails) and hanging them there until they died. Archeological evidence also shows that the ankles were sometimes nailed, not together on the front of the cross, but separately on either side of the main beam. Crucifixions were done in public places with the crimes posted for all to see as a way to be deter future criminality. Criminals would sometimes agonize on their crosses for days before they died from suffocation, dehydration, or a heart attack. The entire process was designed to be torturous and humiliating and serve as a warning for breaking Roman law.

To learn more about this brutal form of execution, see The Bible Says article, “Bearing the Cross: Exploring the Unimaginable Suffering of Crucifixion.”

We know from the other Gospels that the crowds included ordinary Jews who were both present (Luke 23:13) and were shouting for Jesus’s death (Matthew 27:22, Mark 15:13, Luke 23:21). Matthew and Mark reveal that the chief priests and elders persuaded the ordinary Jews in the crowd against Jesus (Matthew 27:20, Mark 15:11). John’s statement indicates that even though the entire crowd cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify”, that it was the chief priests and officers who were leading the people in calling for Jesus’s execution. 

Pilate’s Reaction to the Jews’ Response
The Roman governor seemed to be appalled by their demands.

Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him” (v 6b).

The governor’s reaction has two parts. The first part—Take Him yourselves and crucify Him—appears to be an expression of deep frustration and not a legitimate or sincere offer. The Jews had no authority to crucify Jesus. As was pointed out by the Jews when they first brought Jesus to Pilate, according to the existing laws, only Rome had the authority to execute someone (John 18:31). The Jews could not legally take Him themselves and crucify Him. Moreover, the Jewish method of execution was stoning, not crucifixion. 

Therefore, Pilate appears to have said to the chief priests: Take Him yourselves and crucify Him not as a genuine offer, nor does it appear that they heard this as a genuine offer from the governor, but rather it was said in exasperation. By this point Pilate had tried no less than three times to release Jesus in a way that did not anger the Jews (Luke 23:16, Luke 23:17-21, Luke 23:22). The governor may have even broken Roman law by having an innocent man scourged, just to appease them (Luke 23:22, John 19:1). And still they were shouting “Crucify, crucify.

The second part of Pilate’s reaction was stating again “I find no guilt in Him.” This was at least the fifth time Pilate had stated Jesus’s innocence (Luke 23:4, John 18:38:b, Luke 23:14-15, Luke 23:22, John 19:4). 

(Note: Pilate’s declarations of Jesus’s innocence and his attempts to release Him are not the same thing.)

Even though there were two parts to Pilate’s reaction—Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him—it is best understood as a single thought. In saying this, Pilate was expressing that they wanted Jesus killed. By explicitly stating this, Pilate was attempting to have himself absolved of any responsibility or culpability in Jesus’s crucifixion. 

Pilate would develop his attempt of self-absolution even further when he would later take some water, wash his hands “in front of the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves’” (Matthew 27:24). Matthew records that when Pilate washed his hands and said this, that “all the people said, ‘His blood shall be on us and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:25). Because Matthew’s account is not necessarily linear, it is possible that Pilate washed his hands and said these things at this time. 

Pilate’s attempt to absolve Himself of responsibility was ridiculous. He was the governor. The decision was his. But he abdicated his moral obligation to release Jesus, who had no guilt, to the crowd because he feared them. Among Pilate’s primary responsibilities was keeping the peace and collecting taxes. A riot and a feud with the local leaders could be fatal to his political career. 

Pilate’s hand washing ceremony was as ineffective and silly as the fig leaves Adam and Eve dressed themselves in to cover up their sin (Genesis 3:7). And it was just as hypocritical and hollow as the Pharisees’ washing of the outside of the cup while leaving the inside filthy (Matthew 23:25-26). 

There is no covering or washing that can remove sin and make us right with God other than the blood of Jesus (Leviticus 17:11, Psalm 51:16, Matthew 26:28, Romans 3:25, 5:9, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:14, 22, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 John 1:7b, Revelation 1:5, 7:14).

The Jews’ Pivot to a New Accusation
Upon perceiving Pilate’s exasperation, the Jews pressed their advantage. 

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God (v 7).”

Having sensed and now seen that the governor’s fears for his career were now governing him rather than his commitment to the law on behalf of Jesus, the Jewish authorities accused Jesus with a new charge—a charge that had no bearing upon Roman law and would have been instantly dismissed if prudently and judiciously considered. But apparently, Pilate was past the point of judicious prudence. 

The initial accusations the Jews brought against Jesus were:

  1. Upsetting the political order: “misleading our nation” (Luke 23:2a)
  2. Sedition: “and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar” (Luke 23:2b)
  3. Insurrection: “and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2c)

Now they changed course and presented a new charge, possibly because they feared Pilate was about to acquit Jesus of the initial three charges. The new charge against Jesus which they brought to Pilate was the religious crime of blasphemy. 

Blasphemy was the same crime they condemned Jesus for in the second and third religious trials in the home of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-66, Mark 14:55-65) and in the council chamber of the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1, Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66-71). The most severe form of blasphemy was for someone to claim to be God. The Jews told Pilate that Jesus made Himself out to be the Son of God and because of this He ought to die under Pilate’s command.

The Jews were insisting that Pilate—a Roman governor—execute Jesus not because He broke a Roman civil law but a Jewish religious law. Pilate was the leading civil authority of the Roman province of Judea, and with that position, he had the political power to put Jesus to death. However, as a pagan Gentile, Pilate was unqualified and unfit to judge Jewish religious law which he knew little about. He had no expertise in their law. He had earlier admitted all of this to Jesus when the governor told Him during his first interview: “I am not a Jew, am I?” (John 18:35).

What Pilate should have told the Jews at this point was that their religious laws were not his concern; Jesus was innocent of the civil charges they brought to him and that consequently He would be duly released. 

Previously, with the exception of releasing Jesus, Pilate had already implied or said as much three times (Luke 23:4, 14-16, 22). And yet, because he had not released Jesus, the Jews continued to pressure the governor to execute Him, making it harder for the insecure politician to follow the law instead of the crowd. And previously when they brought an illegitimate charge (John 18:30), Pilate sarcastically rejected it:

“Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.”
(John 18:31)

But Pilate did not reject their illegitimate charge this time. This time he considered it. Perhaps he did so in part because he was frustrated. Perhaps Pilate did so in part because he thought if he tried and then acquitted Jesus on the Jews’ own terms, then maybe they would accept the verdict and leave him alone. Whatever his precise reasons were for considering this, John tells us that Pilate did so because “he was even more afraid” (John 19:8).

In the next section (John 19:8-11), we will see how Pilate considered their new charge by investigating Jesus a second time—this time on the charge of the blasphemy according to Jewish religious laws. 

Biblical Text

6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”

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