When I read through John 19 this morning, my initial thought was that it talks of a very violent occurrence, both physically and verbally. Yet on re-reading I saw this lovely interplay about authority.
Pilate said, “You won’t talk? Don’t you know that I have the authority to pardon you, and the authority to—crucify you?”
Jesus said, “You haven’t a shred of authority over me except what has been given you from heaven. That’s why the one who betrayed me to you has committed a far greater fault.”
At this, Pilate tried his best to pardon him, but the Jews shouted him down: “If you pardon this man, you’re no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone setting himself up as ‘king’ defies Caesar.” (John 19:10-12 MSG)
Pilate considered that he had ultimate authority in the land. Clearly he demonstrated that in his way of dealing with the Jews on a day to day basis, and now he wanted to boast about it to Jesus, in essence giving Jesus the chance to accede to his authority. Who knows where he thought that would go, perhaps if Jesus did so, then Pilate was free to boast about his power over the Rabbis.
Yet, Jesus calmly told him that his authority was only ever prescribed by God, and he was therefore going to accept that delegated authority and suffer the consequence of what was going to happen. Likewise, we should recognise that authority structures have been put in place (ie the police, the courts, government, management etc) so we should accede to the delegated authority.
Pilate’s authority was actually weakened further when he went out to the crowd to pardon Jesus, and was shouted down by the people. They threatened to report him to Caesar, so he gave up and gave the order for the crucifixion. Was he acting on his own authority? I don’t think so, I think all he was doing was administering things, and so his so called authority was shown to be worthless.
Sometimes we need to discern what is indeed real authority!