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John 18:38-40 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:54 mins 59 secs

Barabbas or the Savior; John 18:38-40

Each Gospel writer writes from a slightly different perspective. He is not wring a history or biography of Jesus, each writer is telling us something distinct about the person and work of Jesus Christ and has a distinct message. For example, Matthew is the Gospel of the King and he is writing primarily to a Jewish audience to show that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be, the Messiah prophesied from the Old Testament, the greater son of David, who came to earth to die on the cross for man's sins. Mark writes to tell about Jesus as the servant. Luke emphasises His humanity, Jesus the Son of Man. John writes his Gospel to emphasise Jesus as the Son of God and the emphasis is on His deity. John writes primarily for two purposes: first, to explain how to be saved (John 20:31), and his second purpose in writing comes from his statement in John 10 that "I came not like the thief to steal and destroy, but I came to give life and to give it abundantly." For the most part the Gospel of John is written to explain the signs that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on the cross as a substitute for us, with the exception of chapters 15-17 which explain how to have abundant life and the spiritual life.

None of the Gospel writers tells us about all six trials of Jesus. We have to compare Scripture with Scripture in order to determine where the breaks were. The first religious trial under Annas is covered in John 18:12-14, 19-23. The trial under Caiaphas is covered in Matthew 26:57, 59-68; Mark 14:53, 55-65; Luke 22:54, 63-65, and briefly mentioned in John 18:24. The trial before the Sanhedrin is mentioned in Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71. The initial trial before Pilate is covered in John 18:28-38, and here we have seen that Pilate attempts to save Jesus from the cross by declaring His innocence. But Pilate is in a fix; he is basically over a barrel. He is being blackmailed by the religious leaders because of previous failures in his administration. He has offended the Jewish leaders on four different occasions in the past, one of which has occurred just a few months previous to this and they have complained to Caesar in Rome and Pilate's job may be on the line. He is afraid of doing something that might further offend the Jews and if they complain to Caesar again he just might lose his life, so he is trying to find some level of compromise with the religious leaders.

John 18:37 NASB "Therefore Pilate said to Him, 'So You are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say {correctly} that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice'." Here we see a major theme that has been developed in the Gospel and that is that Jesus is truth. Before Pilate is Jesus who is the truth. So as absolute truth, the ultimate reality in the universe, the Logos of God, stands before Pilate, Pilate then turns away and rejects truth. He simply states in a very sarcastic way, "What is truth?" John 18:38 NASB "Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, 'I find no guilt in Him'."

What we see here now is that Pilate begins to try to avoid executing Jesus and to come up with some basis for letting Him go.

Luke 23:1 NASB "Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate." This is the beginning of the fourth trial. Who is the "whole body of them"? We see in Luke 22:66 that it is referring to the Sanhedrin: "When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council {chamber}." This took place at daytime because it was necessary for them to have an official verdict and it had to be in daylight hours. As soon as dawn appeared they summoned the Sanhedrin to hear the judgment against Jesus and to pass a verdict. After they passed the verdict the whole body brought Him before Pilate. In Luke 23:4 they are said to be the chief priests and the multitude. It is not merely the Sanhedrin but now there is a large crowd of Jews outside the Praetorium.

Luke 23:13 NASB "Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people." The rulers are the Sanhedrin. Luke uses the term "the People" for an important reason. In verse 14 Pilate is going to announce again that he has found no guilt in Jesus. The charge against Jesus by the Jews was that He was deceiving the people and leading them astray. So when Luke describes the crowd in v. 13 he uses that phrase, "the people," because he is drawing our attention to the fact that the Sanhedrin had charged Jesus with deceiving the people and now it is the people who were allegedly deceived to whom Pilate is going to announce Jesus innocent. So Pilate is trying to avoid judging Jesus and is trying to avoid executing Him, despite the fact that the Jews have fabricated a charge of political insurrection and sedition. They need to have something that is worthy of execution under Roman law, and Pilate has to deal with it. In John 18:31 in his first attempt to avoid responsibility in the trial Pilate had told the Jews to take Jesus and judge Him by their own law. That is when they responded by coming up with these charges that He was really causing trouble, perverting the nation, and making Himself out to be the King of the Jews. So that meant that Pilate had to go back and evaluate Him a little further, and that is covered in John 18:32-38. At that point Pilate makes his second attempt to free Jesus and after this examination he again finds Jesus to be innocent. By the end of the first trial Pilate has twice stated that Jesus is not guilty of any crime, so he takes the third step in avoiding responsibility for the situation and he sends Jesus to Herod. This is covered in Luke 23:4ff.

Luke 23:8 NASB "Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him." We don't see anything negative about Herod here. He is not hostile to Jesus, in fact the picture that Luke presents is that he is mildly curious and interested. [24] "And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. [10] And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently." Notice that in the midst of this scene Jesus is calm. He is in control, relaxed. He is the victim of injustice, He is being lied about, He is having false witnesses come up to Him, and has already been beaten once by the Roman guards. He is not a very imposing figure at this point because of all He has gone through but he refuses to answer. He maintains His poise under pressure because of the Holy Spirit. Remember, Jesus is doing two things in His life. The primary directive was to go to the cross and die for our sins. The second objective was to institute the basis for a new spiritual life operating on the filling of the Holy Spirit that would be the spiritual life of the coming church age which is the age in which we are now living. Jesus is demonstrating here that under incredible adversity you do not have to convert that outside pressure of adversity into the internal fragmentation of stress in the soul. No matter how unjust the treatment, no matter how false the accusations, no matter how painful and horrible the physical abuse might be, that is no excuse for reacting in emotional sin, for pushing the panic button, and it is no reason for giving up hope. He knows that God has a plan for His life, he knows that that plan is, he knows that God is still in control, so He relaxes completely in the provision of God and fulfils God's plan for His life.

The chief priests, on the other hand, are accusing Him vehemently. They have converted the outside pressures of adversity into the inside pressures of stress in the soul. They are operating on anger, bitterness, on jealousy, and they are fragmenting.

Luke 23:11 NASB "Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate." Remember that Jesus has not slept, has not eaten since the night before, and yet He continues to maintain His poise. What this is showing us is that even under such conditions the Holy Spirit is sufficient for us to maintain a relaxed mental attitude, poise and stability, even when we are tired and hungry. Herod, too, is smart; he releases Jesus back to Pilate. He knows that this is apolitical hot potato and doesn't want to take responsibility because he doesn't find anything in Jesus that is worthy of guilt. So Pilate's third attempt to avoid responsibility fails. Herod agrees with Pilate that Jesus is innocent and returns the innocent Jesus back to Pilate. Notice what Pilate says. Luke 23:15 NASB "No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him." Yet the Jews are insistent, they continue to apply pressure on Pilate. Jesus is innocent, so what is Pilate going to do? Luke 23:16 NASB "Therefore I will punish Him and release Him." Why would you punish someone you had just declared three times to be innocent? Only because at this point Pilate has lost control of the situation. He realises he cannot let Jesus go without giving the masses something. He has to throw some kind of a bone to the masses in order to get them off his back, so he is willing to sacrifice his leadership and the objectivity of Roman law in order to make up to the Jewish masses. It is another principle of leadership that one you start appealing to the masses you have lost control of the situation and are no longer a leader. Furthermore, it indicates that you are beginning to fragment in your own soul.

Notice the contrast here between Pilate and Jesus. They are both undergoing intense adversity. Pilate is under political pressure from the religious leaders; Jesus is undergoing unjust accusations and a trial. Pilate's career and perhaps even his life are on the line. Jesus' life definitely is on the line and the judgment of the perfect, sinless eternal second person of the Trinity who will become sin for mankind is on the horizon. Pilate has rejected the truth; Jesus is the truth. Pilate has no resources to handle adversity; Jesus continues to rely exclusively on God the Holy Spirit for stability and he utilises eight of the ten stress-busters. Jesus maintains His stability because of the Holy Spirit and Bible doctrine. Internally, Pilate is fragmenting and he is becoming a moral coward. Pilate falls apart because there is nothing in his soul that can give him stability. That can only come from Bible doctrine.

The word "punish" in Luke 23:16 is the Greek verb paideuo [paideuw] and it refers to the training of a child. It can also refer to discipline, it can refer to corporal discipline, and it can also refer to some form of mild punishment. This is not the flagellation punishment that Jesus is going to get from Pilate in just a little while. This leads Pilate to his fifth solution to try to avoid executing Jesus; he seeks a substitute.

Luke 23:17 NASB "[Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]" This verse is not found in some MSS. It is in a number of MSS so we will treat it as part of the Word of God. It is clearly stated in Matthew and Mark. This informs us that there was apparently a custom among the Jews that during the Passover, because this was the highest of the holy days in Israel, that the Jews would release one prisoner each year. So Pilate realises he has this obligation so he thinks that what he will do is give them the option of releasing Barabbas or Jesus, and Barabbas is such a horrible criminal that they wouldn't want him released again and they would choose Jesus instead. But he underestimates the power of religious emotionalism and the antagonism of the religious crowd to Jesus. 

Just an aside here. What we see is that there are really three groups of people represented in this trial scenario. On the one hand is the Jewish religious leaders who represent religious people down throughout the ages. Religion is the greatest enemy of Christianity. Religion by definition seeks to gain approval with God based on who and what man is. It emphasises personal morality, ritual and human works as a way to gain God's approval. And whenever religion is challenged by grace then there is always antagonism and opposition hostility to grace. Religion always hated Jesus, the religious Jews were always opposed to Him. They despised grace and rejected the gospel. Pilate, on the other hand, represents the secular atheist who rejects God at God-consciousness and it not interested at all in spiritual things. Then the third representative here is Barabbas. He is the criminal, the representative of the lowest element of human society. And what we see here by way of irony that is pointed out in all of the Gospels is that the religious crowd that emphasises morality and human works prefers the pond scum of Barabbas to the perfect Son of God. They prefer human sludge to salvation and the grunge of humanity over the grace of God. This is always the inclination of the sin nature, yours and mine. The sin nature is always attracted to human good, evil and sin.

Barabbas is a notorious criminal. He is called an insurrectionist in Mark 15:7, he was involved in promoting a riot. In Luke 23 he is said to be a murderer, a robber and bandit, and he is called a violent armed man in John 18:40. So what we see here is the people choosing the worst of society and rejecting the perfect Son of God, the only perfect human who ever lived. Luke 23:18 NASB "But they cried out all together, saying, 'Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!'" 

Luke 23:23 NASB "But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices {began} to prevail." Pilate finally caved in. [24] "And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted. [25] And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will." It is at this point that Jesus begins to go through the incredible physical torment and suffering that he would encounter before He went to the cross.