Bible Study

John Bible Study, Day 35: The True Source of Power

Today’s passage: John 19:1–27

Focus verse: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (John 19:11)

The Jewish religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They view him as a threat to the little authority their Roman occupiers have given them to rule their people. Retaining power matters most to them. They reason that Jesus must die. 

Their power has limits. They can’t execute anyone. They need Roman permission. Once approved, the Roman soldiers will handle the crucifixion, their preferred method of killing lawbreakers. 

The authority to approve a crucifixion falls to Pilate. As Rome’s designated leader in that region, he can decide whether Jesus will live or die. As he investigates the charges against Jesus, he realizes Jesus’s innocence.

Pilate tries to release him and save him from an unjust death.

But the Jewish religious leaders don’t care about justice. They only care about their agenda. They oppose Pilate’s solution to the Jesus problem, because they want a different outcome.

His death is what matters to them, even if he has done nothing to deserve such an extreme punishment. Pilate realizes this. Roman law is not at stake. Pilate finds himself stuck in the middle of their scheme.

He goes to Jesus to inquire further. Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate’s questions. Exasperated, Pilate asks Jesus, “Don’t you know I have the power to free you or kill you?”

Now Jesus responds. “You have no power except what God gives you.” But Jesus also offers perspective to Pilate. “The one who betrayed me is guilty of the greater sin.”

This shifts the main blame from Pilate to Judas but doesn’t absolve Pilate of wrongdoing should he convict Jesus to die.

With Jesus affirming that Pilate’s power comes from God and not the Roman government, we see a big-picture perspective. From a human point of view Pilate receives his power through Roman rule.

In truth, it’s God who gives power to both the Romans and Pilate.

This doesn’t mean God supports the Roman’s barbaric reign or Pilate’s decisions. It confirms, however, that God has given them authority over others. It’s up to them to use that power for good or for bad. The decision is theirs. They have free will.

The same applies to Judas. God doesn’t force him to betray Jesus. God gives him the opportunity to decide for himself what to do. He chooses wrong—even though God uses it to bring salvation to everyone. 

Back to Pilate. He wants to free Jesus and attempts to do so. But the religious leaders demand Jesus’s death. They stir up a crowd. With the threat of a riot, Pilate gives in, either out of fear or expediency.

As with Gamaliel before him (Day 28, “Don’t Fight Against God”), he may reason that killing one man—Jesus—is better than a riotous uprising that will hurt many.

Pilate uses the power God gives him to order Jesus’s death. This is as Jesus confirmed, Pilate is guilty for what he does. But God didn’t make Pilate do it. The decision was Pilate’s alone.


  1. When have you not done what is right so you can do what you want?
  2. How often do you forgo justice because you fear taking a stand? 
  3. When has doing what is right been a costly decision?
  4. Where does your power come from?
  5. What does free will mean to you?

Discover more about the temptation to do wrong in 1 Corinthians 10:13 and James 1:13–16. What insights can you glean from these passages?

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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