In the synoptic gospels, the flogging of Jesus occurs after the sentence is passed and just before the crucifixion. In those accounts, the flogging is accompanied by mocking. In John, the flogging is in the middle of the trial. For this reason its function is radically altered. John’s account is briefer than in other gospels and the focus is on the dressing of Jesus in royal attire and the soldier’s acclamation of Jesus as “King of the Jews.” When Pilate presents Jesus to the “Jews”, he presents him to them as a man dressed in the garb of a king (see vv. 4-7 and 13-16). Notice that Jesus stays dressed in royal garb for the remainder of the trial.
When reading this passage tone is important. How important is irony to this chapter? In other gospel accounts, Pilate asserts Jesus’ innocence. Not in John. Non-Biblical sources give describe Pilate as a hard-nosed and cruel governor. Pilate, in effect, taunts the Jewish leadership with their dependence on him. They need him to give Roman authority for crucifixion and Pilate threatens to disregard their demands (v 6a). The Jews remind Pilate what is at stake and the potential political implications for him. Pilate’s freedom to act is circumscribed by his fear of offending the emperor (v 12).
Pilate now investigates Jesus’ origins by asking, “Where are you from?” Jesus has already answered this question before for Pilate (18:36) and now remains silent. The reader of the gospel knows that the answer is “From God!” (see 1:1-3, 18; 3:34; 6:33; 7:29; 16:27-28). Pilate threatens Jesus with his power to release or crucify him. Jesus responds that he would not be able to do so unless the Father gives him the power. In chapter 10 Jesus had stated that he would lay down his life for his sheep.
Even though Pilate tries to release Jesus he is constrained by political expediency. The judgment happens at a specific place, named in both Greek and Aramaic terms. The Greek wording can be read that Pilate sat on the judgment seat or that he had the royally garbed Jesus sit on the judgment seat, which would be another way to taunt the Jews. In fact, he unconsciously speaks the truth about Jesus: He is the king (v 14). Nowhere is there a mention that he sentenced Jesus.
The day and time are also mentioned. It is on the Day of Preparation at noon that Jesus is declared king not sentenced to death. This is also the time for the when regulations for the Passover feast go into effect and the slaughter of the Passover lambs commences.
The final irony is that the Jewish leadership declare they have no king but the emperor. They renounce their distinctive identity as God’s people and that God is the only king. Thus they deny God.
What do you find compelling in the gospel text? Do you still have any questions?