Imagine, the perfect man submitting to imperfect authorities. Jesus purposed to do this because of his strong confidence in the sovereignty of his Father. This confidence is best revealed in the most preposterous of all trials. On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus will undergo six trials—three of them Jewish, and three of them Roman. As he stood before Pontius Pilate, the appointed governor in Jerusalem, Jesus kept silent in the face of the accusations that were brought against him. Into that context Pilate asks Jesus a question.
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” From then on Pilate sought to release him. . . (John 19:10-12).
This is a remarkable look into the mind of our Lord. He specifically states that Pilate’s authority is God derived. To the appointed governor who assumed his power was received from the Roman government this must have been an unnerving reminder. It should not come as a surprise that from that point on Pilate does all he can do to release Jesus.
When Pilate’s temporary resolve to do the right thing buckles under the Sanhedrin’s pressure, Jesus’ confidence in his Father’s will does not. This is a good reminder of the importance of submitting to our imperfect human authorities even when their interests are so self-serving.
In God’s plan he uses Pilate’s weakness and the religious leader’s jealousy to declare Jesus innocence while still insisting upon his crucifixion. Both of these elements were necessary in the plan of God in order that everyone might know that an innocent man had died in the place of the guilty (2 Cor. 5:21). Nine times in the gospel record Pilate will declare Jesus without guilt prior to his pronouncement of the death sentence (Matthew 27:24; Mark 15:14; Luke 23:4, 14, 15, 22; John 19:4, 6, 12).
Pilate’s weak leadership, without him even being aware of it, is actually used by God to accomplish God’s sovereign will in the life of Jesus. While the outcome of the trials is preposterous—how could one declare a man’s innocence nine times and then call for his execution? The function of the trials is not—they declare a man innocent of his own crimes in order that his punishment may be put to a guilty party’s account. This is exactly what Isaiah prophesied 700 years prior to Jesus crucifixion,
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
As Jesus submitted to his imperfect human authorities he developed a deeper confidence in his Father’s sovereign will. Therefore, he comes to the most pivotal moment of choice in the Garden of Gethsemane and submits to his Father’s will with joy (Heb. 12:2).
Note the progression: (1) as a young boy, Jesus submitted to his parents, who, while imperfect had his best interest in view, (2) as a grown man Jesus submitted to the governing authorities, who were indifferent to his plight or condition, finally (3) Jesus submitted to those leaders who were opposed to his ministry and would be responsible for taking his life even though their intentions were self-serving and fueled by jealousy (John 11:47-50; 19:11).
Jesus grew in his ability to submit to imperfect human authorities by taking his eyes off of their imperfections, and placing them on his heavenly Father’s perfections. It was His Father’s will Jesus wanted to do whatever the cost. You and I will only go so far in our understanding of submission unless we grasp the truth that Jesus did: there is a hand we cannot see guiding the hands of those we can.
Because Jesus spent a life time practicing this truth he was prepared to answer Pilot’s weak but abusive authority on the day of his crucifixion (John 19:10-11).
Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above… (John 19:11).
Jesus got it. In his humility, he understood that God was able to use imperfect authorities to accomplish his will in one’s life. He not only submitted, but he did so with a humble spirit and a right attitude (Phil. 2:5, NASV).
Think about the authorities God has placed over you. How are you responding to them? When others around you complain about their leaders, what do you say? Do you join in or show a sweet spirit of submission. Is your attitude one of respect even when those in authority might be disrespectful? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do you submit even when you disagree?