You Have No Power Over Me: Red Letter Year 12/20

John 19.1-16

1 Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. 2 The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. 3 “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

4 Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” 5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

6 When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

7 The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

8 When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. 9 He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

11 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

12 Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

13 When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). 14 It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”

15 “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.

16 Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away.


One thing we should notice today is this is a conversation between leaders. Unlike the other accounts, the crowd says nothing here. Pilate, Jesus, the leading priests, and temple guards do all the talking.
We can see our God-human theme going on within Pilate. He says in v. 5, “here is the man,” then gives real pause at the idea that Jesus might be God (v. 7-9). He seems to take the claim to divinity more seriously, and with more reverence, than the religious leaders ever did. In fact, Pilate simulates the process of coming to trust in Jesus we saw earlier in John: here is the man (v. 5), he is innocent (i.e., holy, v. 6), he is King (v. 14).

As a conversation between leaders, we should expect to find our authority theme, and we do. Pilate is laboring under the delusion that he is the one in power. When Jesus tells him he only has what power is given to him a double entendre is clearly meant. Pilate is little more than Caesar’s puppet. The Jews expose the precariousness of his power with a thinly veiled threat in v. 12: “no friend of Caesar’s,” would be the most dangerous thing for Pilate to be. A well-made accusation along these lines could lead to his own execution. Pilate was also caught up in the divine drama of the Son giving himself for the whole world that God loves so much. There are forces at work beyond Pilate’s control. Pilate is at the mercy of trying to do Caesar’s will and at the same time is bound to carry out God’s will.

Pilate also had quite limited power over the people. Any ruler who abandons the legitimate use of bestowed authority (all authority is bestowed) for the quick coercion of violence loses much of the actual power he or she ever had. Violence can coerce compliance but it cannot inspire obedience. A populace held down by violence is always at risk for revolution; the leader is always sitting on a powder keg without control of the fuse. This applies to the religious leaders as much as Pilate. Annas and his nepotic successors were of the same ilk as Pilate. They had no power over Pilate beyond blackmail with Caesar (a dangerous game for all of them) and no real authority over the people.

Jesus was a threat to all these leaders because he was the only truly free person here. Pilate had no power over Jesus. The religious leaders had no power over him either. And I don’t mean this in some magical, mystical sense. It’s not that they were in charge of the physical realm while Jesus was in charge of the spiritual realm. We think like this but you will search in vain for evidence of that dichotomy here.

They had no power over Jesus because their approach to power and authority had already been condemned. Jesus is inaugurating a new kind of kingdom, not one of oppression, coercion, and guile, but one of trust, hope, and love. They had no power over Jesus because the highest expression of their power – killing Jesus (what Pilate only does out of fear of Caesar and the religious leaders only do by manipulating Pilate) – is precisely the tipping moment where their power is shown to be condemned and Jesus’ power – his glory – is revealed.

Okay, so what does all this mean? One: all forms of worldly power are coercive, self-serving, and manipulative – and thus self-condemning and self-defeating. This is true of governments, businesses, churches, families, and personal relationships. The way the world rules is condemned. Two: true power is what empowers, what leads to human flourishing. It begins with trust which builds unity, a shared identity. It goes forward with hope, spreading freedom for each to flourish. It achieves and lives out the goal of love which creates real equality.

This is the social order we call the church. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make this way of life together possible. His Holy Spirit makes it actual.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.