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John 19:8-11 meaning

Pilate's Second Interview with Jesus: Having just received the Jews' new charge against Jesus on the religious crime of blasphemy, Pilate becomes even more afraid and agrees to investigate this new charge with a second interview of Jesus inside the Praetorium. He asks Jesus where He is from; but he is given no answer. Pilate challenges Jesus to speak by reminding Him that as the governor, he has the authority to release or condemn Him to crucifixion. Jesus acknowledges Pilate's authority over His life in this moment, but He informs Pilate that he would have no authority if it were not given to Him from above. This event is part of the third phase of Jesus's Civil Trial. This phase is called: "Pilate's Judgment." 

There are no apparent parallel accounts of this conversation in the Gospels.

This event is part of the third phase of Jesus's civil trial, and it is called: Pilate's Second Interview with Jesus.

In this portion of scripture Pilate interviews and investigates Jesus a second time. The first interview occurred after the Jews initially asserted their accusations during the first phase of Jesus's civil trial (John 18:33-38). Now, His civil trial was well into its third and final phase as the Jews presented an increasingly exasperated Pilate with a new accusation against Jesus.

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 was put 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, it was a Friday.

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

The new charge the Jews made against Jesus to Pilate was the religious crime of blasphemy: 

"We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."
(John 19:7b)

Blasphemy was a religious crime and a violation of Jewish law. It was not a civil crime or Roman law. Blasphemy was the crime the Jews illegally condemned Jesus with during His 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 Jews either desperately or boldly (or both) pivoted to this charge when Pilate declared Jesus not guilty (for the fifth time—John 19:6b) of the previous charges. The earliest charges were: upsetting the political order; sedition; and insurrection (Luke 23:2). 

From a Jewish perspective, blasphemy was the preeminent charge underpinning the others. But from a Roman perspective it was only a religious matter, which may explain why the Jews did not bring it up earlier. But with Pilate possibly on the verge of releasing Jesus, they desperately pivoted to this charge now.

The Jews were bold to demand that Pilate, a Roman governor and a pagan, judge and condemn Jesus to death on a matter of Jewish faith—especially when he had previously shown no interest in deliberating on this religious case (John 18:31a). Pilate himself explained to Jesus during his first interview with the accused, "I am not a Jew" (John 18:35) as a way to admit that he was not qualified to settle disputes among the Jewish faith. 

Had the Jews attempted such a bold and desperate measure earlier in Jesus's civil trial, Pilate would likely have dismissed their case. But now as Pilate was obviously wavering, having declared Jesus's innocence but not having released Him, he was not acting rationally or judiciously. He was acting out of fear for his own political skin. And the Jews took advantage of his apparent weakness.

Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid (v 8).

The term: this statement, refers to the Jews' bold and desperate accusation: "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God" (John 19:7b).

Pilate was fearful before they said this statement, but now he was even more afraid. The governor was acting out of fear. And the chief priests were preying upon his fear. Matthew tells us what he was afraid of. Pilate was afraid that "a riot was starting" (Matthew 27:24). 

The position of the Judean governorship was directly appointed by the Roman Emperor. The Emperor expected his governors to maintain order. A riot would likely cause major trouble and perhaps dismissal for Pilate, especially if he was at the center of it and was in a position to prevent it. 

Pilate was supposed to follow and enforce Roman law. It would reflect poorly upon his performance if he executed an innocent man at the whim of the people he was governing. However, it is unlikely Rome would care much about the unlawful death of one Jew. But they would care a lot about a loss of control in their volatile province of Judea.

Pilate was in a precarious position—he could not allow a riot. And it seems the Jews now knew it. The chief priests were preying upon his fear, thus precipitating their pivot to the new position, which had evolved to "Give us our demand or we will unleash a riot and you will be accountable to Rome." 

They were ultimately successful in using his fear to pressure the governor into giving Jesus over to their demands that He be crucified. The decisive moment came when they diabolically told Pilate that he is "no friend of Caesar" (John 19:12) if he releases Jesus, even as they themselves confess to Pilate: "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). 

According to Jewish law, when the chief priests and other Jews declared this, they committed the crime of blasphemy—the same crime for which they were wrongfully condemning Jesus to death. This is yet another wicked irony; the Jews committed blasphemy in order to get Jesus crucified for blasphemy. 

But here at this moment, when Pilate first heard the new charge—"by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God,"—he agreed to consider it because he was afraid. His fear motivated him to accept the new charges even though Pilate, by his own estimation, was not an expert on Jewish law (John 18:35). Perhaps Pilate hoped if he tried Jesus according to the Jews' own terms, then maybe they would accept his verdict and leave him alone.

New charges called for a new investigation, so he entered into the Praetorium again (v 9a) to interview Jesus again—this time to question Him about the accusation that He broke the Jewish law concerning blasphemy.

This was at least the third time Pilate had entered the Praetorium with Jesus. Previously the governor interviewed Jesus about the initial charges (John 18:33-38); and the second time Pilate had Him scourged (John 19:1).

Pilate's Second Interview with Jesus
When they had entered the Praetorium, Pilate said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" (v 9b)

The governor's question was a reasonable line of inquiry given that Jesus was charged with blasphemously claiming to be God's Son. 

But Jesus gave him no answer (v 9c).

Jesus did not answer the governor's question as He had in the first interview. He remained silent. Jesus possibly gave him no answer because He was physically depleted from the scourging. Perhaps He had already given Pilate sufficient answers and truth during their first conversation and Pilate scoffed at it—"What is truth?" (John 18:38a) showing himself incapable or worthy to constructively handle additional truth (See Matthew 7:6, 13:13, John 8:47). Perhaps Jesus was being shrewd. Perhaps He gave him no answer for more than one of the reasons listed above. 

Whatever Jesus's motives for remaining silent, the preeminent reason He remained silent was because He was doing His Father's will. Jesus always acted and spoke (or did not speak) according to the will of His Father (John 5:19, 5:30, 7:16).

Jesus did not directly answer Pilate's question: "Where are You from?"

So Pilate said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" (v 10)

The governor was trying to intimidate his prisoner into answering his questions. Pilate was threatening Jesus with his political authority over His life or death. Pilate was deliberating whether to use his political authority to release Jesus or to crucify Him.

Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above (v 11a).

While Jesus did not directly answer Pilate's initial question—Where are you from?—He did calmly and seriously challenge Pilate's asserted authority in a way that indirectly indicated to the governor that He was from above—i.e. from God. 

Jesus's assertion about Pilate and the source of his political authority clearly states that Pilate owed his position of authority not to Caesar but to God above. Moreover, Jesus was warning the governor that he should use the authority given to him from above to please the One who gave it rather than to appease the whims of the crowds, or Caesar.

If Pilate had ears to hear Him, Jesus was offering the governor a way out of his short-sighted "either/or" dilemma between Roman law and the angry demands of the chief priests. 

All authority and dominion belongs to God (Psalm 62:11). This includes all earthly power and authority.

"The Most High is the ruler over the realm of mankind,
And bestows [authority] on whom He wishes
And sets over it the lowliest of men."
(Daniel 4:17b)

Paul writes to the believers in Rome, that "there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Romans 13:1b). This specifically includes governmental authority (Romans 13:1a). God's purpose for establishing human government is to serve as His agents of wrath against wrong doers (Romans 13:4-5). 

Government is in place to serve as a deterrent for evil and a supporter of good behavior (Romans 13:3). Paul exhorted the believers in Rome to follow the Roman laws during a time when either Claudius or Nero was the emperor. Nero grotesquely abused his power to cruelly execute Christians and, under his rule, Paul himself was executed. 

Obviously human authority can use the position God has given them to harm and exploit others, and when they do it is evil, and they will be accountable before God. But we should still submit to them in so far as they are not commanding us to do anything that goes against God's word (Acts 5:29). 

Whenever injustice or harm comes to us, we are to follow Jesus's example of entrusting ourselves and our situation to God (Isaiah 50:10, 1 Peter 3:14-15).

It is interesting to consider how God chose to establish Pilate as the governing authority over Judea and specifically Jesus at His trial. The authority Pilate had over Jesus was given to him from above. At this moment, Pilate was considering how he should exercise this authority over Jesus, who was God, who set aside His divine privilege (Philippians 2:6-7). 

Said another way, Pilate was considering how he should exercise his authority over the One to whom "all authority in heaven and on the earth" would soon be given (Matthew 28:18). This is yet another immense irony—the one given authority is deciding how to exercise authority over the One who grants all authority. 

God knew that Pilate would hand His Son and Servant over to be crucified (Isaiah 53:6, 10a, John 3:16). But even with God's foreknowledge and giving of this authority to Pilate, paradoxically, the free agency and choice as to whether he would release Jesus or crucify Him still belonged to Pilate

To learn more about paradoxes, see The Bible Says article: "Founding Paradox."

Jesus also knew that Pilate would hand Him over to be crucified (Matthew 20:18-19). Jesus's understanding also seems to be apparent in what He told Pilate next:

For this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin (v 11b).

Jesus was explaining to Pilate that he is responsible for how he uses his authority which had been given to him from above—whether he uses that authority to release or crucify Him. By saying that Pilate has sin in regard to his judgment over Jesus, Jesus indicates that He already knows the governor will choose to crucify Him. However, the sin of Pilate that Jesus was referring to at this point might have been the unjust order to have Jesus scourged even though the governor had declared Him innocent (Luke 23:22). The sin of Pilate, which Jesus was referring to could be both the scouring and the order to crucify Him

With this statement—he who delivered Me to you has the greater sinJesus teaches the principle that some sin is greater or lesser than other sin. In Pilate's case, his sin of scourging and/or giving Jesus over to be crucified was the lesser sin than the sin of he who delivered Jesus to Pilate. The phrase he who delivered Me to you likely refers either to Judas, Jesus's disciple who betrayed Him to the religious authorities; or to Caiaphas, the high priest who delivered Jesus to Pilate

A likely reason the sin of the one who delivered Him to Pilate was greater than Pilate's sin was because Jesus's disciple or the Jewish high priest had greater awareness and therefore greater accountability and culpability for their sinful action than Pilate who was a Gentile outsider. Nevertheless, Pilate still was culpable for his decision and treatment of Jesus, and he did not choose what was right, but chose to sin

For his part, the governor understood at least a critical measure of these things. We know that Pilate partially understood because John reveals in the next verse that "As a result of [what Jesus said to him] Pilate made efforts to release Him" (John 19:12a).

To see what came of Pilate's renewed efforts to release Jesus, see the next section of commentary. 

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