This is the third time Pilate has seen Jesus during his “trial.” Before Pilate became involved the first time Jesus had been arrested by Caiaphas, the Chief Priest, and the temple guards. He had been taken to Annas’ house first then to Caiaphas house where he was condemned to death and beaten by the guards. This was at night. After sunrise he was taken to Pilate, who examined him and found him not guilty of doing anything wrong. Pilate proposed to have Jesus punished and released. Caiaphas’ mob demanded he be murdered. Pilate discovered Jesus was a Galilean and sent him to Herod who ridiculed Jesus and allowed his guards to beat him. Herod returned him to Pilate who told the mob even Herod had found Jesus not guilty. Jesus is standing before Pilate and the mob beaten and bruised, an innocent man condemned by a jealous, envious, group of religious leaders. This mob of religious leaders asks Pilate to release a notorious criminal, condemned to death, and have Jesus, who is innocent, crucified in his place.
Washing his hands of the decision Pilate turns Jesus over to his guards who prepare him for crucifixion. He was scourged, his body traumatized. He was mocked and ridiculed, each Roman soldier present in turn hitting him and spitting in his face. A crown of thorns was shoved down onto his head and a purple garment thrown over his torn and lacerated back. Then Pilate brought him back out to stand before the mob. “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him” [John 19:4 ESV]. Once again Pilate tells the mob Jesus is not guilty of any crime, had broken no Roman law and did not deserve death. He had suggested punishing Jesus and letting him go. “So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man'” [John 19:5 ESV]! What the crowd witnessed was a man punished by Roman soldiers trained in sadism. He did what he had proposed doing to a man who was innocent. Pilate could have easily at this time released Jesus and told the High Priest he would not be their executioner. Perhaps there was a vain hope in him the mob would see a beaten and broken man, ridiculed and mocked, bleeding from every part of his body and decided Jesus had suffered enough. He wanted them to let the man go.
Once a mob begins chanting a slogan or mantra, a phrase meant to excite the emotions and inhibit the intellect, it is almost impossible to stop them. This mob had been chanting “crucify him, crucify him” [John 19:6 ESV]! and would not be satisfied until the man they wanted murdered was near death hanging on a cross. John identifies the mob demanding Jesus’ murder. They were “the chief priests and the (temple guards) officers” [John 19:6 ESV]. These are the ones, as we have said, who were responsible before God for the spiritual welfare of the people. They taught the people God’s laws, enforced His justice and were the examples of godliness to the world. Now they were inciting a mob of their own people to throw away their responsibility, their leadership positions, their relationship with God to have a man murdered. Not just murdered but tortured to death.
Pilate continues to try to rid himself of this decision. He makes another telling statement, coming close to enforcing his decision but unwilling to impose his will upon those he governs. He knows the Jewish leaders cannot carry out an execution, though they have before and they will again. “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him” [John 19.6 ESV].
According to Jewish law Jesus’ crime of making himself equal to God was a capital crime. “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” [John 19:7 ESV; see Matthew 26:63-65]. These people knew the Law and were referring to Leviticus. “Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” [Leviticus 24:16 ESV]. God’s judgment on such crimes was stoning not crucifixion. After the person is dead their body may be hung up for display but crucifixion or impaling as a means of execution was a thoroughly barbarian act and never alluded to in the Law of the Jews.
Pilate wants to release Jesus, after having him punished, which he has done, while the Jewish leaders want Jesus executed in a manner which inflicts the most pain effectively erasing the criminal’s humanity. It is ironic that the High Priest and the Jewish leaders refer to the Law in Leviticus 24:16 but ignore the verse following their excuse for the capital sentence. “Whoever takes a human life (unjustly) shall surely be put to death” [Leviticus 24:17 ESV].
Pilate has just heard a new accusation. This accusation has nothing to do with being a king, or inciting rebellion against Rome, or telling people to not pay taxes. Jesus is standing next to him, bleeding profusely, a crown of thorns jammed down onto his head, a purple garment spread over his lacerated shoulders. He is going into shock. Pilate knows he is an innocent man. Jesus has done nothing wrong. Nothing he has done has violated Roman law. Jesus’ supposed violation of Jewish law is of no concern to the Governor. Before him mills a mob of men consumed with hatred. His job is to protect the innocent from such a mob. So far he has not done his job. Now they accuse Jesus of claiming to be a god. “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid” [John 19:8 ESV]. Pilate is alarmed. He has lost control.