Focal Passage: John 18:28-40
One of the most thought-provoking literary devices is irony. Writers often grab our attention by describing situations that — to our surprise — turn out differently than we expected. We might read about a fire station burning down, or a marriage counselor filing for divorce or a pilot with a fear of heights.
These twists are often given to display deeper truths, such as the vulnerability of those who seem strong or the flaws of those who appear to be perfect. However, ironies are often used to communicate powerful messages in unexpected ways, and we find a series of real-life ironies during Jesus’ trial in John 18.
After being arrested and questioned by the high priest Caiaphas, Jesus was led to the governor’s headquarters to be tried by Pontius Pilate. While the religious leaders had wickedly conspired to put Jesus to death, ironically they didn’t enter the headquarters for fear of being “defiled,” which would prevent them from eating the Passover.
Also, the main reason they came to Pilate was because they believed “it is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31). In this moment, John is showing us that the religious leaders were conspiring to conduct the most evil murder in history, while ironically trying to keep God’s law the best they could in order to receive a blessing. This scene reveals the sinful heart of man. How often are we blinded to our own sin while thinking we are righteous? How ironic.
Once Jesus was brought before Pilate, the governor asked Him if He was truly a king. Jesus responded that He is a king (not earthly, but spiritual), and His main purpose in the world is “to bear witness to the truth.”
In fact, Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (v. 37). But Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (v. 38). In an ironic way, Pilate seems to be seeking the truth about Jesus and trying to make a truthful ruling while denying that such truth exists. However, the greatest source of truth was standing in front of him.
Finally, after Pilate finished examining Jesus, he declared that he found no fault in him and handed him back over to the religious leaders.
However, according to a longstanding custom the governor would release one local prisoner each year during Passover. So, Pilate asked the people if they wanted to release Jesus, or a murderous insurrectionist named Barabbas. While it seems like the obvious choice would be to release the gentle and lowly Jesus, the crowds ironically demanded that the violent murderer Barabbas be released instead.
However, in the irony of ironies, Jesus would be sentenced to death and would literally take Barabbas’ place on the middle cross, between the two thieves who were most likely in his gang. This ironic twist isn’t coincidental. God is showing us a picture of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, how Jesus came to take the place of sinners.
Therefore, in a world filled with self-righteousness according to the law and misunderstandings about the truth, Jesus came to live the faultless life we couldn’t live and die the criminal’s death we deserved, all so we could be forgiven and accepted by God. That message is more than ironic — it’s the gospel! Soli Deo Gloria! B&R.